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Marlins Quick Hits


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Marlins quick hits


JUPITER, Fla. -- An unsettled stadium issue has caused the Marlins to undergo the second "market correction" in franchise history. With such a young squad, it is quite possible five rookies will be in the Opening Day starting lineup.


Being so inexperienced makes seriously contending for a playoff spot seem far-fetched. Yet new manager Joe Girardi is not conceding anything. Determined to get the most out of his youthful squad, the first-year skipper expects to win. How realistic that is will depend on how quickly the promising prospects catch on to the daily grind of the big leagues.


Girardi spent much of Spring Training instilling fundamentals while rigorously working on drills. In his first camp with the Marlins, Girardi has been as much a teacher as a manager.


The low expectations are being used as motivation to show that age and MLB service time don't necessarily guarantee victories.


Team strength: In exchange for dealing away established stars in the offseason, the Marlins stockpiled an impressive group of young pitchers. The organization firmly believes pitching wins, and with payroll limitations they are committed to developing their own arms. No less than nine newcomers have been in contention for a couple of starting rotation spots. The top two established stars are Dontrelle Willis, the undisputed ace of the staff at age 24, and two-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera, who is returning to his natural third-base spot.


Achilles heel: The bullpen is shaping up as a work in progress, between untested youngsters and some veterans who are looking to rekindle their successes of the past. There isn't an established lefty in the bullpen, and chances are the closer job may end up being filled by committee.


Top newcomer: Rookie Hanley Ramirez is living up to the billing that made him one of the prime prospects in the game the past few years. Acquired from the Red Sox as part of the Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell trade, the 22-year-old shortstop enjoyed the most impressive spring of all the new players. He's a rare talent who can hit for power, average, play solid defense and run. Like the rest of the rookies, he will likely undergo his share of growing pains, but thus far, he is showing flashes of all that tremendous potential.


Ready to make The Leap: Jeremy Hermida has not posted the strong numbers in Grapefruit League games, but the rookie right fielder projects to be a big-time hitter in time. The patient left-handed hitter has shown he can draw walks and hit for power on occasion. Over the course of his career, his slugging numbers will likely increase. In spacious Dolphins Stadium, his home run totals may be hurt.


On the hot seat: Veteran right-hander Brian Moehler sets an example for the young pitchers, and he understands what it is like to be on teams with low expectations. He was part of the Tigers teams that went through rough times a few years ago. In his second season with the Marlins, Moehler rebounded nicely from Tommy John surgery in 2003. As the most experienced starter on the staff, he won't be shaken if matched up against an elite starter. But if he falters, the club has so many young arms seeking rotation spots.


You can bank on: Cabrera to continue to be an offensive force. The only Marlin ever to generate back-to-back 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons, Cabrera is a two-time All-Star who has the potential to be one of the game's top superstars. The fear is he won't have enough protection in the lineup around him to see enough pitches to produce another big season. Cabrera may find himself walking more than 100 times for the first time in his brief career.


Litmus test: To build confidence, getting off to a fast start is important. A more veteran squad would likely better handle adversity early. Some early wins in Grapefruit League games gave the young Marlins some confidence. The quicker the team gets that feeling they can achieve success early will give them something to build upon. A lot of pressure falls on the starting pitchers to keep the club in games while the hitters adjust. And the starters will have to be able to log enough innings to preserve an unsettled bullpen.


Games you don't want to miss:


April 11-13: The home opener on April 11 is against the Padres, winners of the NL West last season. The opener is always a big occasion, and this year it provides the fans of South Florida their first opportunity to see some players considered to be future All-Stars.


May 22-24: The Cubs make their lone visit to Dolphins Stadium for three games. Always an intense rivalry, especially since the 2003 NL Division Series, the Cubs now feature former Marlins Derrek Lee and Juan Pierre.


June 30-July 2: Interleague play brings the popular Red Sox to Miami for three games. The Red Sox now feature former Florida standouts Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez.



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