Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Miami Marlins

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-Digger's Daily-

Everything seems new in South Florida. New team name. New stadium. New uniforms. New spending habits. New manager. New free agents. Welcome to re-branded baseball - 2012 Miami Marlins.

Marlins Park makes its' regular season debut April 4th in Miami's home opener vs defending champion St. Louis. Marlins fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into 2012.

Miami was busy this off season shifting gears from usual selling ways to free agent buyers. They went all out in an unsuccessful attempt to land prized free agent Albert Pujols (Angels). However, they did land another sought after player - former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes arrival means Hanley Ramirez moves from SS to 3B forming a tough left side infield. Miami's second big name signing is former White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle. Toss in a new closer - Heath Bell - and Miami is ready to challenge in NL East. Leading the way is feisty manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen's club is strong on paper but there's plenty of question marks. Biggest concern is keeping Jose Reyes healthy. Reyes has a long history of leg issues. He's one of the game's top players when 100%. How well will Hanley Ramirez adjust to playing 3B? Ramirez worth ethic was called into question last year before injuries finished off a disappointing season. Ramirez stats have been on a steady decline after establishing himself as one of NL's top players from 2006-09. Hot headed Carlos Zambrano short tempered his way out of Chicago. Miami's taking a big chance on this locker room grenade. If Zambrano can keep his cool and return to old form then Florida has a deep starting rotation.

What to watch. Winter hype grabbed Miami headlines. Now it's time to play ball. Marlins have two slugging corner outfielders. 2012 represents a major maturing test for both Morrison & Stanton. Are these guys ready to improve their games? Stanton is a free swinging slugger who must put his bat on the ball with runners in scoring position. 166 strikeouts over shadowed 34 home runs (especially when 34 round trippers produced a paltry 87 RBI). Morrison jumped from 2 homers in '10 to 23 in '11. He's another in need of plate discipline. Fan favorite Gabby Sanchez began last season on fire (.322 thru May) only to struggle throughout the second half. He would have been traded if Pujols signed. Now, it's up to him to produce or be gone.

Starting rotation is curious. Can #1 starter Johnson finally stay healthy? Is Buehrle ready for NL action? Can weak link Nolasco learn to pitch out of jams? Steady Annibal Sanchez finally has a shot at run support. Is Zambrano ready to play ball or continue being an embarrassing distraction? Loads of both upside & downside potential on this staff.

Miami's offense will only be as good as their plate discipline. Free swingers up and down this lineup. Probable lineup has plenty of speed at the top with Reyes/Bonifacio hitting 1-2 followed by Hanley. Stanton probably cleanup followed by Sanchez, Morrison & Buck. Glaring weakness here is OBA - especially against division rival control artist pitchers.

Projection: An exciting year coming in Miami after less than stellar 90 losses 2011. Health history, lack of left handed hitting and low OBA must be addressed in pre-season action. NL East is quickly becoming one of best in baseball. It's hard to picture this squad challenging for division title. 82-85 wins is realistic. If new pieces fit, youngsters mature and good health prevails then Miami is a serious contender to challenge for Wild Card.

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