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…
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.
All those off-season questions should be answered within the next few weeks of Spring Training as roster spots, starting positions, and rotation vacancies are given to those who stand out. There are a significant amount of team members returning but nothing is set in stone, especially with the rotation and bullpen.
Besides the 1-2 punch at the top (J.J. & Nolasco) there are several talented pitchers vying for starter job. I think Anibal Sanchez is finally healthy and can put up a solid season like his stellar rookie campaign [10-3 with a no-hitter]. Chris Volstad has got to be over his sophomore slump by now because giving up as many home runs as games started  is unacceptable. If that leaves one more spot open it should go to a lefty, either Sean West or Andrew Miller. Both show sparks of being able to handle 7+ innings, but inconsistencies and inexperience need to be improved now that everyone knows their name and what they throw. The dark horse candidate would be The Incredible Hurk AKA Rick VandenHurk. He made big strides at the end of last season and you can’t go wrong with (future Hall Of Famer) Bert Blyleven as your personal pitching coach. That leaves Hayden Penn (who I don’t trust in the rotation) to become more of a middle relief like Burke Badenhop and Ryan Tucker, if not released altogether.
Another decision to make is who will fill that lefty off the bench roster spot. As early as it is in the spring the top 2 strongest candidates are Rule 5 draft pick Jorge Jimenez and veteran Mike Lamb. It seems manager Fredi Gonzalez has taken a likening to Jorge Jimenez and if so that could put the other Jorge (Cantu) back at 1B with his diminishing arm. On the other hand, in only 2 games Mike Lamb has 3 hits including a pinch-hit RBI single.
To throw another hat into the circle, Hank Blalock has still has yet to make a decision on which team he would rather play for this season. Blalock is choosing between the Rays and Marlins, so if he ends up signing with Florida he could very well snatch up that last roster spot over Lamb and Jimenez.
In a few days there will be a clearer view of things like Hank’s choice of whether to play in Tampa Bay or Miami, the “Race at First Base” between Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez, and the plethora of pitchers fighting for bullpen spots will dwindle because of injuries or lack of production. Check back after the weekend…
The time is finally here for all baseball maniacs to get excited, as pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training all this week. And for a team that hasn’t made many off-season acquisitions, it’s not surprising the Marlins picked up another piece for their bullpen before everyone starts working out. Of course the big money went to 9 arbitration eligible players (Cody Ross just won his case for $4.45 million), so the Marlins are still being thrifty about who they want to bring into camp.
Former All-Star Mike MacDougal has been given a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite by the Marlins. The deal is worth $700K if he makes the big league roster, including $75K in performance bonuses. Without any major league deals outside the organization, MacDougal was offered the 2nd highest amount of money this off-season on a minor league contract (Seth McClung gets $800K for making the team).
Pitching most of his career in the AL with the Royals and White Sox, MacDougal was very hit or miss. In 2003 he reached All-Star status grabbing 27 saves for Kansas City and 21 more in 2005, but was eventually traded to Chicago mid-2006. By 2009 he had a 12.46 ERA after 5 games and was released by the White Sox, eventually getting scooped up by the Nationals in mid June. The switch to the NL was just what the reliever needed, as most pitchers perform better within the land of no DH. MacDougal was thrown into the closer role in Washington after they ran out of options (trading Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh and Joe Beimel to Colorado). He then converted 20 of 21 save opportunities with a 3.60 ERA on a last place team.
Having already hired Randy St. Claire as the new pitching coach (Washington pitching coach ’03-’09), the decision to bring MacDougal aboard makes total sense. He has experience closing games if everything doesn’t work out with Leo Nunez in that role. Hopefully changes don’t need to be made and these newly acquired relievers like MacDougal, Derrick Turnbow, and Seth McClung will be signed and help bolster our bullpen.
Also, the Marlins are inviting some position players to camp hoping to fill that lefty off the bench role. It’s not anyone like my suggestion of Hank Blalock (although keep your eyes on him), but names you might not of heard from in a while.
Mike Lamb was invited to camp, who you might remember from his Houston Astros days when he averaged 12 HR/60 RBI from ’04-’07. He last played in the majors in 2008 splitting time between Minnesota and Milwaukee for their playoff push. Lamb signed with the Mets last season but never got the call back up to the big leagues. For all the injuries the Mets had through out the year they should’ve taken a chance on him since he plays 1B/3B/OF.
Jason Lane is another former Astros outfielder trying to re-emerge from the trenches. He last played in 2007 for Houston, then was given to San Diego as part of a conditional deal playing in only 3 games the rest of the year. Since then he signed with the Yankees and Boston in 2008, as well as Toronto in 2009 with no luck of a roster spot.
The Marlins aren’t just giving away bench positions though, so it should be a tight race between the veterans. If none of them work out, I can see a trade during Spring Training to bring in some talent.