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Florida Marlins 2011 Season Preview
The 2011 season for the Florida Marlins is first and foremost a season of transition and change. The last era of the history of the Marlins, the 2006 era headlined by Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, is over. Yes, players like Ramirez and Josh Johnson will be anchoring the next era for the Fish, but gone are names such as Uggla, Cody Ross, and Jorge Cantu who also served as signficant pieces of the team's offense. Starting last season, the Marlins decided to move to a newer, younger offensive core, and that transition began with stud prospects Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton.
Both Morrison and Stanton (nicknamed Patience and Power) provided for the offense in their own ways. Morrison displayed a premium eye for the strike zone, walking in 14.3% of his 287 plate appearances in 2010. He only managed two home runs, but there is promise in the power the left fielder can bring; he is just 22 years old and his 27 doubles and triples in 287 PA well exceeded the league average for 2B + 3B / PA. It is likely that those gap shots could easily turn into home runs as early as 2011. Stanton, on the other hand, had no problems with home runs. belting 22 in just under 400 PA last season. His 22.9% HR/FB% ranks second in the big leagues among players with at least 350 PA, behind only National League MVP Joey Votto. There is no reason to suspect that such a performance was a fluke either; Stanton is well known for his prodigious slugging in the minors, and he stands only to continue the show in 2011.
The Marlins are counting on both Morrison and Stanton to continue their torrid paces from 2010 and early projections have them hitting at a similar pace in 2011. The team will also look for another solid performance from fellow 2010 rookie Gaby Sanchez, who impressed the Marlins and their fans with a solid .273/.341/.448 slash line that was better than average overall for the Marlins. Sanchez muddled the first base situation by playing so well, and the team will attempt to play Morrison in left field for a full year to fit both their bats in the lineup.
The 2011 season will also feature another position switch, with previous left fielder Chris Coghlan moving to center field despite never playing the position in his professional or college career and just recovering from a torn meniscus that ended his 2010 season prematurely. The team is confident that Coghlan has the speed and instincts to cover center field in spacious Sun Life Stadium, but most Marlins fans are a bit more skeptical. This move also keeps Coghlan from filling a role in the infield, meaning the team may go with top prospect Matt Dominguez (who does not appear ready) or local pariah Emilio Bonifacio at third base.
While Ramirez remains at shortstop as the lone Opening Day starter left from the 2006 team, the remainder of the team's starting lineup features new faces. Replacing Uggla's spot at second base is Omar Infante, whom the Marlins acquired as part of the Uggla trade. Infante broke out in 2010 for the Atlanta Braves and is an overall average player both at the plate and at the keystone. The Fish will debut a new catcher as well, as the team signed John Buck to one of the more lucrative free agent deals of the team's history, a three-year pact worth $16M. Buck will be expected to stabilize the catcher position, a spot where four different Marlins played in 2010 and none impressed. Buck is coming off a career year in Toronto, but he is not likely to repeat his performance in 2011.
Continuing with the theme of change, the Marlins will be debuting a new face in the starting rotation as well. Javier Vazquez, coming off the worst season of his career, signed a one-year deal with the team in order to rebound in a friendlier park and league. Vazquez looked old as a pitcher last year in New York, but the last time he was in the National League, he was a Cy Young candidate in 2009. The team is hoping he can given them 200+ solid innings in the middle of a rotation led by ace Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Both Johnson and Nolasco are set to remain with the team for the foreseeable future, as both are locked into extensions through 2014. Johnson is looking to continue his dominance from 2009 and 2010, and the odds are that he will show once again that he is one of the top five starters in the National League. Nolasco, on the other hand, is looking to rebound from a second straight season in which his ERA betrayed his sparkling peripherals. He is looking to translate those excellent strikeout and walk numbers into better results in 2011.
The Marlins finished off their transition by letting go of most of the old bullpen and bringing in the new. The team traded away former Miguel Cabrera trade gem Cameron Maybin to acquire power reliever Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica from the San Diego Padres and also acquired a lefty power arm from the Uggla deal in Mike Dunn. In addition to those moves, the team signed lefty specialist Randy Choate to deal with the stacks of power lefty bats in the NL East. Returning for another season in Marlins gear are Leo Nunez, whose excellent peripherals were downsized by erratic late inning results, and Clay Hensley, who provided one of the few bright spots in last year's pen. Also returning are Burke Badenhop and Brian Sanches.
With improvement to a drastically bad bullpen, the Marlins could have pulled another few games out of the rabbit hat last season. Unfortunately, the 2011 edition of the Fish is a brand new one and most certainly not the 2010 team. In order to compete in a stacked National League, the club will have to get continued improvement from Stanton, Morrison, and Sanchez along with a return to prominence from Ramirez after a down year and heavy criticism about his effort. The club will also need a bounceback and maybe even an overperforming year from Vazquez along with good contributions from Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez in order for them to succeed. If all these things happen, the team can be in the hunt for a Wild Card. While the changes made cannot all be classified as good, the Marlins front office is going into 2011 with a team that has an outside shot at competing.