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Marlins counting on youth movement


Ralph
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Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. If you are a Marlins fan and need a security blanket, those are the two players you will cling on to all summer long.

The rest of the squad is just too young and too unfamiliar to know exactly what you are going to get.

 

The former stalwarts -- from Josh Beckett to A.J. Burnett to Mike Lowell to Alex Gonzalez to Juan Encarnacion to Paul Lo Duca to Juan Pierre and more -- have moved on.

 

Sometimes the term "youth movement" can be overstated. In the case of these Marlins, it couldn't be any more appropriate. The Marlins don't know anything about what it is to be 30-something. Their starting lineup, with a projected average age of 24.25 years, doesn't figure to have a single starter over 27.

 

The intriguing thing about youth is the unpredictability of it all. And no team was less set as Spring Training wound down than the Marlins, with rookie manager Joe Girardi still doing daily evaluations to try to get a handle on the core that will break camp.

 

At least the Marlins have a precedent for all this. The 1997 World Series championship team was seemingly disassembled before then-manager Jim Leyland had finished his victory lap around the warning track following Game 7 against the Indians. And six years later, through the work of crafty scouting, patient development and savvy player acquisitions, the Marlins were champions again.

 

Hence, another rebuilding movement is in full force and history proves it can work. It just might take a while.

 

Girardi, 41, might be the perfect man for the job. The former catcher of three Yankees' championship teams, Girardi's career was built largely on his baseball intellect and grit. Now he can lend some of that knowledge to kids who will need it.

 

"He's a great student of the game," Marlins general manager Admin Beinfest said. "He knows how to play the game right. And he's stand-up. There is no gray area. That's appreciated. People will always know where they stand with Joe."

 

And, in Willis and Cabrera, the Marlins possess two things that every youth movement can't normally brag about: an ace and a bopper.

 

Willis was phenomenal last year, going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA and firing seven complete games. He figures to drop off in wins, given the loss of seasoned players behind him. But his starts should still be "events" for those loyal fans who pass through the turnstiles at Dolphins Stadium.

 

As for what the rotation will look like behind Willis, that is anybody's guess following the winter defections of Beckett and Burnett. Of all the pitchers vying for spots behind D-Train, Brian Moehler is the only name recognizable outside of South Florida.

 

But the Marlins hope that some of their young pitchers can throw opposing hitters for a loop of unfamiliarity. Left-hander Jason Vargas and righty Sergio Mitre are two arms the Marlins will count on heavily. Before it is all said and done, rookies Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco will all try to make an impact.

 

The man who might have the biggest challenge on this team is Cabrera, whose unquestioned skills at the plate could be compromised by the fact that there isn't much thunder in front of or behind him.

 

Cabrera walked 64 times last year and if he shows any kind of discipline in '06, you'd think that he'll push 100. He is coming off a terrific year (.323, 106 runs, 198 hits, 43 doubles, 33 homers, 116 RBIs) and is at the stage of his career where he still figures to bump his game up a couple of notches.

 

"I don't want to put so much pressure on myself," Cabrera said recently. "I want to do like I did last year, play my game. I'm going to play hard. I'm not going to put pressure on myself. We're all going to have to play hard."

 

One thing Cabrera will likely go through this year -- aside from mastering the art of playing third base -- is the challenge of maintaining focus when losses begin to pile up. It isn't every day that a player who turns 23 in April can be considered a mentor. But in this case with Cabrera, that isn't far off.

 

Impressionable players, like shortstop Hanley Ramirez, once a prized prospect of the Red Sox, will be watching Cabrera on a daily basis and trying to learn things both from a mental and physical standpoint. In fact, Ramirez, the player the Marlins coveted enough to deal Beckett's lightning bolt of an arm, will be a fascinating guy to watch.

 

Everyone knows about his five tools. But can he develop as fast as Cabrera did a few years back, or will he be a more typical prospect?

 

Other players to watch? First baseman Mike Jacobs, who belted 11 homers in just 100 at-bats for the Mets last year. Outfielder Chris Aguila, who proved he can hit in the Minors but struggled in his 78 at-bat initiation to the Major Leagues in '95. Daniel Uggla, who belted 21 homers in the Minors last year. Jeremy Hermida, who has power and speed and rare discipline at the plate for a 22-year-old.

 

If you're a Marlins fan in '06, it just doesn't make sense to measure this team by their place in the National League East standings. If they sneak toward the .500 mark, or even a little above it, all the better.

 

But the real point of this season is development. Girardi will nurture his players every step of the way, doing his best to ensure progression instead of regression.

 

And just how well the manager and players do during a time that can't be measured by immediate results will have a significant bearing on how long this rebuilding project will last.

http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article...tives&fext=.jsp

 

After reading this article and a few others talking about our players I have realized Josh Willingham is flying under the radar. By mid April I bet he wont be overlooked any more.

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With Willingham slotted into left and Olivo the opening day catcher, it looks like Matt Treanor has dogged a bullet and stays with the parent club.

 

The last lineup battle it appears is Aguila and Abercrombie in centerfield. It's going to be fascinating to see how that one plays out.

 

 

 

I thought it was set that Willingham will start @ catcher?

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With Willingham slotted into left and Olivo the opening day catcher, it looks like Matt Treanor has dogged a bullet and stays with the parent club.

 

The last lineup battle it appears is Aguila and Abercrombie in centerfield. It's going to be fascinating to see how that one plays out.

 

 

 

I thought it was set that Willingham will start @ catcher?

Try keeping up with current events.

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The radio guys today said that Girardi wants Willy to catch 3-4 times a week and play LF on the other days.

 

If you prefer your updates from Rotoworld, then here you go:

 

Marlins manager Joe Girardi indicated Saturday that he'd likely have Josh Willingham split time between left field and catcher this season.

As long as he's in the lineup. "He's still going to catch," Girardi said. "But we believe he will be more productive if he doesn't catch six days a week." Barring the acquisition of an outfielder, Willingham will probably get the majority of his starts in left. The Marlins would carry both Miguel Olivo and Matt Treanor. Chris Aguila, the alternative to Willingham in left field, could also see action in center to keep himself in the lineup at least three or four times per week. Mar. 25 - 9:00 pm et

Source: Marlins.mlb.com

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Actually this is what Girardi said,

 

"The plan for now appears to go with Willingham in left field, with Miguel Olivo likely as the Opening Day catcher. Willingham still could see action behind the plate three or four days a week.

 

"You obviously have to be productive to be in the lineup every day," Girardi said. "We want to make sure he is productive the entire year. It's tough to ask a guy to catch 120 games a year when he hasn't done it before. He's just not used to that, getting beaten up and fatigued."

 

http://florida.marlins.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/...t=.jsp&c_id=fla

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I'm still giving Willingham my pre-season "most hyped player to fail miserably" award.

 

I dont really think Olivo will help @ C either. I'm hoping Hayes and/or Sanchez are ready to go soon.

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Spike, your definition of "failing miserably" must be VERY interesting. I agree that there seemed to be quite a bit of hype, but not the failing miserably part. I guess that means your are 1 for 2 or .500

That is only a couple of steps above miserable failure; JW is @ .440!

 

help me understand your comments.

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I am predicting he wont hit well @ the MLB level. It's just a hunch, and I've said it for a while, cant turn back now. I hope I'm wrong, but a true man stays with his convictions.

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