Final Predictions for Who Will Make the Miami Marlins Roster
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Well, it looks like there were some swings and misses.
We're less than a week from Opening Day, and Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond has some tough decisions, as he attempts to whittle down the roster to 25 men. Some decisions might come easy, while others are hard, no matter the talent level.
For instance, what does the starting rotation look like behind staff ace Ricky Nolasco? Who will bat cleanup behind Giancarlo Stanton? Or with 32 players still in camp, what will happen to the seven who won't make the Opening Day roster?
Besides answering these important questions, we'll compare January's predictions to our final prediction as to who will make the Marlins' roster.
Ricky Nolasco is the ace of the staff and will start on Opening Day for the Marlins.
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Virtual locks today: Ricky Nolasco, Nathan Eovaldi, Wade LeBlanc, Henderson Alvarez and Kevin Slowey
Virtual locks from Jan. 8: Nolasco, Jacob Turner, Eovaldi and Alvarez.
It's official. The Marlins have set their starting rotation.
As expected, Nolasco is the Opening Day starter. Redmond made that easy decision three weeks ago, and he decided to tell Nolasco in grand style.
“I told him on the mound when I went out to take him out,” Redmond said to the Palm Beach Post after Nolasco's outing against the New York Mets on March 7. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m taking you out but you’re the opening starter.’ He goes, ‘Well, then we better win.'"
The decisions to keep Eovaldi and Alvarez in the rotation weren't hard either, as they both posted solid springs. Eovaldi went 3-0 with a 3.65 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, while Alvarez was 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA in 12 2/3 innings.
LeBlanc entered Spring Training competing for the final spot in the rotation. But between his effectiveness (1-2, 4.74 ERA in 19 innings) and Redmond's preferences to have a left-hander in the rotation, using the the southpaw to split up the staff, LeBlanc's inclusion as the No. 3 starter was easy as well.
The biggest change was the ouster of Turner in place of Kevin Slowey.
Slotted as the No. 2 starter at the beginning of Spring Training, Turner struggled with consistency and command, as he was 0-3 with a hideous 9.69 ERA in 13 innings. Meanwhile, Slowey, who entered Spring Training as a nonroster invitee after battling injuries each of the last two seasons (Slowey tore an abdominal muscle in 2011 and a fractured rib prevented him from pitching at all in the majors last season), was solid, posting a 2.63 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.
"We sent Turner down to get his command back," Redmond told MLB.com. "That was a tough one."
Marlins closer Steve Cishek is all pumped up after getting a pivotal out for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
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Virtual locks today: Steve Cishek, Jon Rauch, Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb, Chad Qualls, A.J. Ramos and John Maine
Virtual locks from Jan. 8: Cishek, Dunn and Webb.
Eight pitchers. Seven spots.
The Marlins are expected to carry 12 pitchers, and the odd man out seems to be Jose Ceda, who is expected to start the season on the disabled list as he is trying to make his way back from Tommy John surgery.
The only uncertainty with this group is what role each player will fill.
Cishek should be the team's closer after a successful stint in that role last year, replacing the now-departed Heath Bell. The side-arming right-hander was 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and recorded 14 saves after last season's All-Star break.
Bridging the gap between the starting rotation and Cishek will be Rauch, Dunn and Webb. Rauch signed a one-year. $1 million contract about a week before the start of camp. Rauch (career: 42-38, 3.80 ERA and 62 saves) would replace Cishek as the closer if Cishek falters. Dunn, meanwhile, is the only left-hander in the team's bullpen.
Qualls (2-1, 5.33 ERA with three teams in 2012) is a veteran who is hoping for one more year, while Ramos is a young September call-up from last season who struck out 13 in 9 1/3 innings. With only one southpaw in the bullpen, Ramos might be called upon to help get tough left-handed hitters out late in games.
With all but one spot filled, Maine is expected to be the long reliever. Maine, who was in the mix for a starting rotation spot, signed a minor league deal during the offseason after spending the last two seasons in the minor leagues. The 31-year-old right-hander pitched for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets from 2004-10. Maine owns a career 41-36 record with a 4.35 ERA in 108 games (105 starts), but he was limited to nine games in 2010 because of shoulder problems and hasn't been the same since. Last season, Maine went 8-5 with a 4.97 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Casey Kotchman will probably start at first base to begin the season as the Marlins wait for Logan Morrison to return healthy.
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Virtual locks: Rob Brantly, Greg Dobbs, Adeiny Hechavarria, Casey Kotchman, Placido Polanco, Kyle Skipworth, Donovan Solano, Wilson Valdez.
Virtual locks from Jan. 8: Brantly, Dobbs, Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Logan Morrison, Polanco and Solano.
While this may be the team's infield come Opening Day, a pair of Marlins returning from injuries could change the complexion by the beginning of May.
For starters, Morrison is still recovering from right knee surgery, (patella tendon) for the second time in less than a year, from back in September. If he makes a full recovery in time, he'll make the Opening Day roster; the Miami Herald reported Morrison could return as early as April 15. Realistically though, Morrison will probably play some first base in the minors and return to the Marlins on May 1, Morrison told MLB.com. But until then, Morrison is expected to start the season on the disabled list.
As insurance, the Marlins signed Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal shortly after the start of camp. Thus far, Kotchman has been terrific, hitting .415 (17-of-41) with one home run and six RBI.
Then there's backup catcher Jeff Mathis. He's out six weeks, thanks to a fractured right collarbone Feb. 23, and is expected to also start the season on the disabled list. Mathis told MLB.com he figures he will be rehabbing the injury in April and be ready by the beginning of May. Until he returns, former first-round pick Kyle Skipworth is considered the frontrunner to replace Mathis.
As long as everyone else stays healthy, Brantly will start at catcher, Hechavarria at shortstop, Polanco at third base and Solano at second base.
Recently, Polanco has been hitting clean-up as the Marlins continue their search to provide protection for right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. Keep in mind Polanco has hit just 103 home runs in his 15-year career, and his career-high is 17 homers with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2004.
“I don’t think they expect me to be hitting home runs because I’m hitting fourth. I assume that’s what spring training is for, to try different things,’’ Polanco told the Palm Beach Post.
Besides Skipworth, the other infielders will probably be Dobbs, who will provide a valuable left-handed bat off the bench, and Valdez, who will be used in an utility role.
The thinking here is if Nick Green or Chris Valaika had proven he was capable of being the team's utility infielder, then management would not have signed Valdez to a minor league deal a day after the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants released him.
Giancarlo Stanton enters 2013 as the Marlins best player.
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Virtual locks today: Chris Coghlan, Gorkys Hernandez, Juan Pierre, Justin Ruggiano and Giancarlo Stanton.
Virtual locks from Jan. 8: Pierre, Ruggiano and Stanton.
The biggest question for this group is: Who plays center field?
It's a near certainty Pierre will play left field and hit in the leadoff spot, while Stanton will play right field and hit No. 3 in the batting order.
But between Coghlan, Hernandez and Ruggiano, who will be slotted in between Pierre and Stanton?
Ruggiano was the frontrunner coming into camp after he hit .313 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 91 games last season. However, he was hampered with a back injury this spring and has hit just .214 (6-of-28).
Hernandez struggled at the outset of Spring Training, but he has picked it up, collecting seven hits in his last 15 at-bats to pull his batting average up to .289 this spring.
By the way, Ruggiano and Hernandez are out of options, which means they would have to clear waivers before the Marlins could demote either to the minors.
Then, there's Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. Coghlan is trying to win a job after dealing with injuries and declining production in each of the last three years. Thus far, he's hit .321 this spring to thrust himself into the center field competition.
Redmond hasn't ruled out a platoon between Coghlan, Hernandez and Ruggiano.
"That could end up being our best option," Redmond told MLB.com. "We could definitely go that route. That way we make sure we don't wear one guy out. We don't have a ton of depth out there, so we have to keep everybody healthy."