…And We’re Back!

  Well after a bit of a hiatus, a draining offseason, and a hope for the future.. we kick off the 2011 season with optimism for the Fish. It’s their last season in Sun Life Stadium (Dolphins Stadium) and the transition to the Miami Marlins started with a few offseason moves, including spending money. Something we haven’t done since 2005 when we signed Carlos Delgado to a 4 year/$40 million contract.

First Move:
   Dan Uggla traded to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. I hate parting with Uggla and all his power but his money needs were to high rejecting the Marlins 4 year deal for 5 with Atlanta. Infante is another All-star who hit .321 last year and can play 2nd or 3rd. Mike Dunn is a hard throwing lefty (1.89 ERA, 27K in 19 innings) our bullpen could use in the late innings, so all in all the talent we got back is worth it.

Second Move:
   Signing John Buck to 3 year/$18 million deal. Marlins made a cash splash starting the offseason by spending money instead of dumping it. Going out and getting a free agent needed to be done to a position that could not stay healthy. Losing John Baker to Tommy John in early May and Ronny Paulino had issues with PEDs and was released in August. Even Baker’s replacement Brett Hayes seperated his shoulder in August thanks to Nyjer Morgan’s tirade, leaving us with a 4th string (Brad Davis) to finish out the year.
   Buck’s signing is a major upgrade because of his leadership behind the plate and a veteran presence he can give our staff. Also he was a All-star last year as well as Infante and could put up some numbers similar to Uggla’s.

Other Moves:
   Cameron Maybin was traded to the Padres for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb in bullpen reserves. Good move, I was about to give up on Maybin myself with all the injuries but he is still only 23.
    Andrew Miller traded to Red Sox for Dustin Richardson. Miller had run out of options and wasn’t going to make the squad, so getting someone is better than nothing in this 2007 trade bust.
    Non-roster invitee Dewayne Wise, from the infamous over the wall “Catch” saving the Mark Buehrle prefecto, might wind up as the 4th outfielder.
    Chris Coghlan moves from LF to CF (Logan Morrison now owns left). Will it be a hard transition with that knee surgery that ended his season last July? Something tells me no.
 

Ladies and Gentlemen.. Mike Stanton!

The time has finally come to see the amazing prospect, Mike Stanton in a big league uniform and starting in right field. The 20 year old makes his debut tonight against the Silly Phillies about an hour away from my home in New Jersey. Good thing I’m going to see him tomorrow. Sorry, back to the main headline here.

Stanton has finally been called up after having a spectacular spring with 3 HR, 8 RBI in his short stint in a big league camp. He was sent to Double AA-Jacksonville to get a little conditioning and up to this past weekend Stanton had 21 HR, 52 RBI in 52 Games. Needless to say, it was almost mandatory to call him up to shake up the Fish, plus the fact that the Super Two deadline had past on June 1.

Ironically another team, the Nationals, were waiting for that Super Two date to pass as the #1 pick in the 2009 Draft – Stephen Strasburg is also making his major league debut tonight. Two of the three top prospects in the game are set to embark on a joyous adventure that should blossom into incredible careers. These two rookie baseball gladiators have a magnitude of talent and baring injury should perform beautifully.

Here’s Mike Stanton, get acquainted with his face and his bat…

mike stanton.jpg

Lose One, Win Two, then Repeat

It wasn’t the most orthodox way of how to win a 3-game series but for the first week of baseball the Marlins figured out a motivation tool to start the season 4-2. The first 2 series of the season had the Marlins losing in game 1 each time, only to come back and win the next 2. They got romped on Opening Day to the Mets, but despite the bullpen showing it’s flaws the Marlins battled back taking the next 2 games despite giving up a 6-1 lead in the 7th to walk 9 batters on Wednesday night. They next faced the Dodgers in their home opener on Friday and lost 7-3, but the Fighting Fish didn’t let that stop them from coming back again with a walk-off win on Saturday and Jorge Cantu’s heroics on Sunday.

The guy they call JOR-GEE is having another fabulous start to the season with an impressive first week. He has come away with at least one RBI in all 6 games, including the 5 RBIs he had Sunday to bring his total to 10. Not to mention his average is a cool .320 with 2 HR and 4 doubles, so it’s no secret Cantu loves April. His stats from last season for the month of April were .365 avg with 7 HR, 22 RBI, 5 doubles and hitting behind the Hanley Ramirez doesn’t hurt either. Both those players alone have the ability to lift the team on it’s shoulders and produce runs like the 3-4 combo of Chase Ugly and Ryan Coward.

The Marlins sit in 2nd place in the NL East behind the Phillies (5-1), who play the Nationals 6 times in their first 9 games. I’m not arguing with the scheduling because the Marlins played the Nationals 6 times in the first 12 games last season, ending up 11-1 to start. Although, the Marlins haven’t been to the playoffs since 2003 and its still an even match where as the Phillies are unfortunately back-to-back NL champs. Which makes me ask why should they play the team with over 100 losses last couple years to start a season? It isn’t really the most competitive of match-ups to start defending the NL title to, and if anything the league wants the Phils to jump out at 9-0 and let everyone else play catch-up all year long.

So depending on what happens with the Marlins against the Reds, as well as the aforementioned Nationals/Phillies series, this weekend’s upcoming games should be a blast. The Marlins come to Philly to face off for the first time this season and I’ll be there for damn sure to support my Fighting Fish, despite the sea of Red and cliche Boo’s I will be surrounded by. On that note, bring on week two!

Mr. Robertson’s Neighborhood; Praise Gaby!

Before the 2003 season the Marlins traded some prospects to get Mark Redman from the Tigers and finish out their rotation. He went on to go 14-9 with a 3.59 ERA and help the Marlins collect their 2nd World Series Championship ring in his only year as a Marlin.

One of those prospects of that trade was pitcher Nate Robertson, who went on to win 12 games his rookie year in 2004 and has made a name for himself in Detroit ever since (good or bad). In 7 years as a Tiger he was 51-68 with a 4.87 ERA averaging 193 innings a year, but injuries and surgeries have set him back the last couple seasons. This time Robertson finds himself as the bigger name in a trade bringing the pitcher back to the team he was drafted by in 1999, the Marlins.

The left handed pitcher was traded by the Tigers with cash consideration (he makes $10 million this season) for pitching prospect Jay Voss and cash. He will take over what was thought to be Clay Hensley’s job, as the 5th starter, which now makes him the only lefty in the Marlins rotation. Larry Beinfest has confirmed that Clay Hensley will make the team but in a role to be determined, maybe middle relief/spot starter.

The final bullpen spot might have been decided by week’s end but trading for Nate Robertson could’ve ended the conversation right there. With the release of Seth McClung and Hayden Penn being claimed off waivers by the Pirates, there were 2 pitchers bidding for an Opening Day spot. Rick VandenHurk and Tim Wood probably were excited to be in the final 2, before winds of the Robertson trade came through the clubhouse and might have knocked them both out of contention. The need for a lefty in the rotation and the way Clay Hensley has played this spring couldn’t be ignored, so sliding Hensley into the bullpen spot leaves zero room for anyone else. Safe to say though the rotation is set for 2010.

On another front, the 1st Base job has been won unanimously by Mr. Gaby Sanchez and the tremendous spring stats he has produced. He’s sporting a batting average just under .400 with 2 HR, 5 RBI and 5 doubles. Everyone was pretty sure after the 2nd week into Spring Training games that Sanchez had an edge in experience and seemed a little more confident over at 1st. After winning out the job last year only to be sent down to AAA before Opening Day because of injury probably makes this time all the sweeter, Congrats to Gaby!

Less than a week away til the Marlins open up with Josh Johnson against the Mets, so Wednesday’s start should be a good preview even though they’re in Florida. Opening Day JJ will face off with Johan Santana in New York and I can’t wait!

UPDATE: Within hours of the acquisition of Nate Robertson, the Marlins optioned Rick VandenHurk and Tim Wood to AAA New Orleans to be in their rotation and bullpen, respectively. The Marlins seem to have their pitching staff set for April 5th, just one bench spot left to solidify the 25 man roster.  

Cut Me Mick

The Marlins seem to be closing in on who might make the final roster spots within the week. The rotation should be set by Sunday with a good idea whose staying and whose going. Speaking of the rotation, another key move was made to show the competition is winding down by sending Andrew Miller to AAA New Orleans. The lefty is retooling his delivery again and didn’t have the best outings this spring, so with an option left on his contract the Marlins are using it to promote someone that’s ready. Miller is 1-1 with 8 walks and 2 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings Grapefruit League games, which shows he has control issues.

Given their experience and tenure with the team I’m going to assume Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad get the 3rd & 4th spots in the rotation, respectively. That leaves one spot left with 3 different options including a reborn Padre (Clay Hensley), a Dutchman (Rick VandenHurk), and a former Oriole (Hayden Penn). My money is on Clay Hensley grabbing that 5th spot, having an excellent spring with his 0.00 ERA, what more can you ask for? VandenHurk might benefit from starting out in the bullpen as a long relief/spot starter, which has seemed to help Burke Badenhop (also sporting 0.00 ERA) find his niche. As for Hayden Penn, I can only hope the Marlins release him and not send him down.

The Marlins did make a release of some kind though, cutting ties with Mike MacDougal who was vying for the closer spot on a minor league deal. Leo Nunez will stay in the closer role for Florida and MacDougal has already signed back with the Nationals where he made 20 saves last season. The Marlins also sent down pitchers Chris Leroux and Hunter Jones (from the Hermida trade), as well as outfielder Scott Cousins and catcher Brett Hayes.

The biggest name to be sent down in recent days is Marlins’ top prospect Mike Stanton, who will start the season off in AA Jacksonville. Stanton has pleaded his case to make the team with 3 HR, 8 RBI, and 3 doubles during his eye-opening spring, yet they can’t rush the 20 year old. The Super Two rule is being closely watched now with top prospects getting to the show too soon, so the earliest you could see him is after June 1. If injuries presume in the outfield with Cody Ross and now Brett Carroll with a strained left oblique, you could see Bryan Peterson get some playing time in April before Stanton. Peterson has 1 HR, 5 RBI, with 11 hits so far this spring.

Anyone think the Marlins are gonna make some last minute moves within the final days like Ronny Paulino or Ross Gload of yester-year? 

 

Spring Fling: Week 2 and a 1/2

Roughly two weeks away from Opening Day and things are starting to take shape in the Marlins camp. The biggest news so far has been the “return to sender” policy of Rule 5 pick Jorge Jimenez back to the Red Sox. The Marlins save $25K of the $50K they spent on Jimenez for not including him on this year’s lineup, but got barely anything for Matt Lindstrom from the Astros besides some low level prospects. Be that as it may, the decision to release Jimenez makes the infield picture look more in focus, more importantly 3rd and 1st base.

Third base is now where Jorge Cantu will primarily play, while Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison continue to fight for the 1B job. Although, Gaby has looked pretty good so far holding a smooth .387 through Saturday (T-2nd on team with 12 hits) and connecting on his 1st spring home run to almost secure the position. Logan on the other hand has had a rough start out the gate and just recently got his average up to the Mendoza line (.200 avg). Although those few hits have been extra base hits (3 doubles & 1 triple producing 6 RBIs), his defense has been shaky trying to adjust to 1B at the major league level. There’s still some time left but I’m beginning to see it’s more likely Gaby Sanchez will be starting on April 5th.

Now let’s move to the pitchers…

As expected, a slew of the pitchers were sent back down to AAA New Orleans or re-assigned to minor league camp. Familiar roster names like Jose Ceda, Cristhian Martinez, and Taylor Tankersley trying to make it back onto the roster will have to work on pitch control as a member of the Zephyrs. Speaking of comebacks, Derrick Turnbow’s attempt is over barring he gets a whole new arm. His mechanics haven’t been the same since 2006 and the Marlins released him almost the second he came out of the game last Tuesday against the Nationals 

The stronger candidates for bullpen and rotation spots are budding their heads out like the spring itself. Anibal Sanchez has gone out on the field every start and showed why he belongs in that 3rd spot in the rotation. That leaves 2 spots left for the remaining pitchers in the mix. Sean West was recently sent down to AAA after walking 7 in 3 innings of a B-game last week, halting his chances to return to the rotation where he finished 8-6 last year.

Chris Volstad might have pushed his name forward as the 4th spot with his last outing against the Nationals. His bread and butter sinker was really working and forced quite a few ground outs, which is what the Marlins wanna see out of the 6′ 8″ righty. That 5th spot is looking pretty nice for Clay Hensley if he can keep up the good work. He’s looked excellent forcing the grounders as well as getting out of situations, holding a 0.00 ERA through 10 1/3 innings. You can’t ask for more from a pitcher, but Hensley does have an opt out clause if he is not on the roster by April 1st.

If the Marlins decide on throwing Hensley in the bullpen with Burke Badenhop (also looks great) as a long reliever, that might make Rick VandenHurk or Andrew Miller the viable choice. Hayden Penn has shown his true colors and should be moved soon, taking him out of consideration in my book. Between Vandy and Miller the smarter decision would be promoting VandenHurk, while Miller still has an option left on his contract to start the year in AAA without losing him. Miller’s delivery is being retooled for the 3rd time and looks like he will still need time to feel comfortable with it.

And finally, the off-the-bench position players are fighting for 2 spots and Jorge Jimenez was in the running for both. The competition for left handed pinch hitter looks like it might have a winner with the resurgent Mike Lamb. The release of Jimenez on Sunday morning must’ve motivated Lamb because, he knocked a pinch hit 3-run double to all but solidify that late inning bench role. The other roster spot is an infield reserve that’s not Emilio Bonifacio (in case he’s already out there). Without Jimenez the Marlins seem to be leaning towards Brian Barden who was with the Cardinals AAA team last year. He plays all over the infield and has .292 avg with 6 RBIs this spring.

At 10-9 and 2 weeks to go it could be worse, but plenty of positives to take out of it. Ronny Paulino and Chris Coghlan are already on fire (14 hits a piece), just note worthy and hope they can keep it up. Until next time…
  

Spring Fling: Week 1

As I’m writing this Mike Stanton just jacked his 2nd homer of the spring, and Dan Uggla followed him with a solo shot of his own against the Astros. A sight I haven’t seen much of so far is that raw power to hit home runs. The most unlikely of names have been hitting it over the fence including Bryan Peterson and Emilio Bonifacio (no, that’s not a typo).

These young prospects with power like Stanton and Peterson have been turning heads early this spring, and could definitely see playing time somewhere during the 2010 season. Stanton is only 20 years old at this point, so a September call-up is probably the soonest you’ll see him. The talent is there and he looks just as good as Jason Heyward, you just don’t want to rush him. Although, I wouldn’t be shocked if Cameron Maybin’s groin injury lingers, Cody Ross moves to CF and Stanton takes RF by Opening Day.

If anything, the player who looks like he’s being rushed into the majors is Logan Morrison. The first baseman’s performance so far has not been promising and Gaby Sanchez seems to be handling the role a lot better. Of course, Gaby has a sprinkle of experience under his belt from last season and it shows with his average at .400 a week into the spring. Logan doesn’t seem to be adapting to any pitchers, carrying a .071 average in his couple appearances (although that one hit was a triple that produced 3 RBIs).

Don’t count out Jorge Jimenez to take over 3B, pushing Gaby and Logan out of the way for Jorge Cantu to play 1B again. Jimenez is looking to start the season on the Opening Day lineup, seeing as the Red Sox kept him off their 40-man roster. If he can’t secure the starting 3B job, he can still battle for the left-handed bat off the bench role. Jimenez has competition there though against veteran Mike Lamb, who has also shown signs of why his minor league deal should be purchased. Also, Hank Blalock decided to sign a deal with the Rays and made the choice a little easier by not coming to Marlins camp.

The pitching staff as a whole hasn’t done anything too drastic to cut themselves from the team, but I will tell you the highs and lows so far…
 
The lowest moment was the outing Seth McClung had on Monday against the Mets making me rethink his signing altogether. He pitched 2/3 of an inning and allowed 6 earned runs on 2 hits (one being a solo HR) and 3 walks. It’s early but in the bullpen you only get so many opportunities to impress with so many arms out there.

The highest moments were a tie between…
1) The pitching of Clay Hensley on Saturday against the Cardinals going 3 innings with 4Ks allowing 1 hit and no runs.
2) Rick VandenHurk coming into a 5-0 deficit against the Red Sox throwing 3 scoreless innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 2Ks. Worthy noting VandenHurk is my dark horse pick, he looked better than Andrew Miller and Sean West influencing me to consider an all right-handed rotation.

The Marlins are going to start making cuts soon and should eliminate the youngsters and high scoring comebacks all around the league. I know no lead is safe but during Spring Training you see the 2nd and 3rd string players come out to blow the scoring wide open for better or worse. Starting the spring 3-0 was nice but ending the 1st week 5-3 wasn’t too good, so let’s hope this 2nd week they kick it up a notch.

UPDATE: Thursday morning the Marlins made some moves with a few pitchers, right-hander Ryan Tucker was optioned back to AAA-New Orleans, and lefty Jay Voss sent to minor league camp.