01/30/2003 8:04 pm ET
Marlins Spring Training rundown
The inside scoop on Florida's 2003 outlook
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
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Roger Dean Stadium
79-83, fourth in NL East
2002 Hitting leaders
(min. 200 at-bats):
SB: Castillo, 48
Avg: Kevin Millar, .306
OBP: Derrek Lee, .378
SLG: Millar, .509
Runs: Lee, 95
RBIs: Lowell, 92
Hits: Castillo, 185
2B: Lowell, 44
3B: Lee, 7
HR: Lee, 27
2002 Pitching leaders
(min. 30 IP):
IP: A.J. Burnett, 204 1/3
W: Burnett, 12
L: Julian Tavarez, 12
Win %: Blaine Neal, 3-0, (1.000)
S: Vladimir Nunez, 20
ERA: Neal, 2.73
K: Burnett, 203
K/9: Armando Almanza, 11.2
WHIP: Braden Looper, 1.17
Projected starting lineup
2B Luis Castillo
CF Juan Pierre
C Pudge Rodriguez
3B Mike Lowell
1B Derrek Lee
LF Todd Hollandsworth
RF Juan Encarnacion
SS Alex Gonzalez
1. A.J. Burnett
2. Josh Beckett
3. Brad Penny
4. Mark Redman
5. Carl Pavano, Michael Tejera, Justin Wayne
LH setup man: Armando Almanza
RH setup men: Vladimir Nunez, Tim Spooneybarger
Closer: Braden Looper
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. Can Pudge Rodriguez, hampered by injuries the past few seasons, return to his MVP form of 1999?
The Marlins' prized free agent signee has appeared in an average of 103 games the past three seasons with the Rangers. Admittedly, he says knee surgery late in the 2001 season caused him to enter last spring out of shape because he didn't have enough time to properly condition. Pudge is a fit 218 pounds after he tipped the scales at 230 the previous spring.
2. Will A.J. Burnett emerge as the next dominant pitcher in the National League?
One look at his stuff, and it is hard to argue otherwise. At 26, Burnett is starting to tap into his full potential and blossom into one of the best in the game. With a fastball capable of tipping 100 mph on the speed gun, Burnett can overpower hitters or baffle them with sweeping curves and a tantalizing changeup. Clearly, he has 20-win potential. The only doubt is longevity. An elbow injury landed him on the disabled list late last season. Fortunately, no major damage was detected, and he returned in September. The Marlins chances of contending in the NL East rest in the strength of Burnett's right arm.
3. Despite all their speed, the Marlins insist they will not be simply a "small ball" team. But is there enough power now that Preston Wilson has moved on to Colorado and Kevin Millar to Japan?
General manager Larry Beinfest maintains there is enough thunder in the middle of the order to compete with some of the heavy-hitting rivals in the division. Derrek Lee paced the team with 27 homers last year and Mike Lowell and Juan Encarnacion each had 24. Rodriguez has the ability to belt 25 or more. Again, there isn't much pop from the left side, where Todd Hollandsworth is being asked to fill the void.
4. Is Braden Looper ready to excel in the closer role?
It depends which Looper shows up on a regular basis. In fairness, last year Looper was thrust into the role on the heels of the season starting. For much of spring, Antonio Alfonseca was the closer, and Looper was preparing as a setup man. He also was working on a new pitch, a cut fastball, and needed time to develop the pitch. After a slow start, and losing the position to Vladimir Nunez after Alfonseca was traded, Looper regained the job for much of the second half and finished the year with 13 consecutive saves.
5. With just about everyone on the team under contract for one year, will management stick with the roster if the Marlins are more than five games out of the wild card race by mid-July?
Only time will tell which direction the roster takes. There is little margin for error because management may not have the patience to stick with underachieving players. The Marlins sincerely believe the pieces are in place to contend, but a number of things have to fall into place. Foremost, the pitchers must remain healthy. Not only that, they must perform to expectations. If the team is in the race late in the season, management pledges to do its part to make moves to upgrade down the stretch.
New faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
CF Juan Pierre -- The former Rockies center fielder replaces Preston Wilson and will be counted on to use his speed to cover the expansion outfield in Pro Player Stadium. Pierre hit .287 with 47 stolen bases a year ago, and is being looked at to hit second behind Luis Castillo.
RHP Tim Spooneybarger -- A hard-throwing right-hander formerly with the Braves aspires to close some day. For now, he is in the setup mix, and will likely top the 51 appearances he made in relief for Atlanta a year ago. Spooneybarger was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 51 1/3 innings, striking out 33.
LHP Mark Redman -- Joins the Marlins after a hard-luck 8-15 year with the Tigers. Victimized by the lowest run support for a starter in the American League, Redman posted a respectable 4.21 ERA before his season was shut down due to a tired arm in mid-September. Is 23-30 (4.57) lifetime. The Marlins like the fact he is a lefty who threw 203 innings a year ago. Could be the third or fourth starter.
LF Todd Hollandsworth -- Brought in to provide some power from the left side of the plate, Hollandsworth combined to belt 16 homers and drive in 67 runs last year with the Rockies and Rangers. The former NL Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers, Hollandsworth has good speed and he steps in as the starting left fielder.
C Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez -- The Marlins surprised everyone, including Rodriguez himself, by jumping into the free agent market to sign the 10-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star. His $10 million deal makes him the highest paid player on the team. Some nagging injuries and wear and tear resulted in him playing on average -- 103 games -- the past three seasons. Entering Spring Training at 218 pounds (he was 230 a year ago), the former Rangers standout insists he can recapture his 1999 American League MVP form. His leadership is being counted on to improve a young pitching staff, and his bat could keep Florida in contention.
CF Preston Wilson -- The athletic Wilson did manage to post his third straight 20/20 season, but he has yet to rekindle the power he showed in 2000 when he belted 31 homers with 121 RBIs. After hitting .243 with 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases, Wilson was dealt to the Rockies. Nagging injuries hampered Wilson's final season in Florida.
C Charles Johnson -- Johnson's second tenure with the Marlins ended in November when he was traded to the Rockies. The former Gold Glove winner had a frustrating 2002 campaign where he hit .217 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He never completely recovered from a thumb injury early in Spring Training, and he injured his back in late July, resulting in him appearing in a career-low 83 games.
LF Kevin Millar -- The Texas resident has a new home in a new country. A fan favorite in Florida, Millar has signed with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League. He leaves with some impressive statistics, including a 25-game hitting streak that is the second longest in team history. Along with his team-high .306 average, Millar swatted 16 homers and drove in 57 runs.
OF Eric Owens -- Primarily used as the fourth outfielder and late-inning defensive replacement, Owens has moved on to the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels. His two-year stint with the Marlins ended with a .270 average with four homers, 37 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
P Julian Tavarez -- Obtained from the Cubs in the deal that sent Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement to Chicago, Tavarez was 10-12 (5.39) in his one season with the Marlins. A free agent, he was not part of the team's plans and signed with the Pirates.
P Graeme Lloyd -- The lanky left-handed reliever acquired from the Expos as part of the Cliff Floyd trade has hooked on with the Mets after going 2-2 in 25 games with the Marlins. Lloyd pitched in 26 1/3 innings, compiling an ERA of 4.44 while striking out 20.
OF Tim Raines -- The 43-year-old veteran has retired after 21 seasons. His mostly handled pinch-hitting duties in his only year with the Marlins, and hit .191. In his illustrious career, Raines finished with a .295 average, 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases.
Returning from injury
SS Alex Gonzalez -- Just as Alex Gonzalez was emerging as one of the slickest-fielding shortstops in the National League, his 2002 season was cut short by a dislocated left shoulder in his 42nd game. Gonzalez's injury at San Francisco in May forced the Marlins to hand shortstop duties over to Andy Fox, the team's top bench player. Gonzalez hit .225 in 151 at-bats before going down. The shoulder required surgery and Gonzalez's progress, especially hitting without pain, will be closely monitored in Spring Training.
2B Luis Castillo -- Hobbled by a hip problem for much of last season, Castillo still led the Major Leagues in stolen bases with 48. He made the All-Star game for the first time in his career and he hit .305. But less than a month after the season ended, Castillo had his left hip scoped to repair a partially torn labrum. He is supposed to be recovered and ready by the start of Spring Training.
New kids on the block: Prospects to watch
OF Abraham Nunez -- The switch-hitting outfielder likely will make the Opening Day roster. If he proves effective hitting from the left side of the plate, he could become the fourth outfielder based on his speed and fielding abilities. Nunez had a productive offseason, playing winter league ball in his native Dominican Republic.
RHP Blaine Neal -- Injuries to the pitching staff resulted in Neal being called up from Triple-A, and the right-hander promises to figure in middle to late relief work this season. He was 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA and shows promise to eventually becoming a setup man or closer.
OF Brian Banks -- A September call-up last year, Banks is not a stranger to the Major Leagues. He played some with the Brewers in 1999, but the switch-hitting outfielder/first baseman/catcher has a strong chance to make the club. The Marlins like his versatility and his lefty bat off the bench.
On the rebound
P Josh Beckett -- The 22-year-old's rookie season was interrupted by three stints on the disabled list with recurring blisters on his right middle finger. Beckett did return in September, and he hopes offseason treatment and maintenance will correct the problem.
P A.J. Burnett -- Unexpectedly, Burnett developed a bone bruise on his throwing elbow in August against the Giants. The ace of the staff went on the disabled list, but he did pitch some without pain in September. One of the team's hardest workers in the weight room, Burnett has worked extensively in the offseason and he should be fully recovered.
The bottom line
If the Marlins are to be a sleeper team in the NL East, some key issues must be addressed early. First, is shortstop Alex Gonzalez fully recovered from a dislocated left shoulder? Second, is the young pitching staff ready to live up to the expectations it's had for a few years now? Three, is there enough power -- especially from the left side of the plate -- and depth to keep the Marlins in the race?
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.