Today, we’ll finish up the 2011 Marlins Season Preview by going into some bold predictions for the team this season. If you don’t recall, here’s what last year’s format looked like, and you can expect something similar in the next few paragraphs. Here’s what I expect to see happen in 2011 for your Florida Marlins.
Record: 84 – 78, 3rd Place
Not much change in the overall standing of the Marlins despite overall dramatic changes by the team since the end of 2010. While my projections pegged them very optimistically at 88 wins, I suggest that that probably won’t happen. You can read more about what I think about the team’s overall record here.
Best Performance: Hanley Ramirez
There should be no doubt that, once again, Hanley Ramirez will be the Marlins’ best player come the end of the 2011 season. Simply put, Ramirez is one of the best five players in all of baseball and one of the few players in the league talented enough to challenge Albert Pujols for the crown of MVP in the National League. Is he challenged defensively? Perhaps, though he is playing the most challenging position defensively in baseball. Can he hit? Absolutely, and last season’s struggles simply don’t do him justice talent-wise. I have him projected for a 6-win season this year, and with some improved defense I would not be surprised if he put up an even better performance. And it can’t hurt to hear that he wants to be more of a leader this year too, though I have my obvious doubts.
Worst Performance: Third Base
Given that we don’t know who will eventually finish the season manning the hot corner for the Fish in 2011, it would be unfair to blame its inevitable problems on any one player. All signs point to Donnie Murphy manning the position at the beginning of the season, but regardless of who was playing, it was certain that third base would be the Marlins’ worst regular position in 2011. Ever since the team committed to Matt Dominguez as the primary plan at third base to start the year, Marlins fans knew that the team was essentially punting the position. The fact that Dominguez (unsurprisingly) did not make the team only furthers the problem, as the team evidently had no solid backup plan outside of the meager internal options. Even though Murphy has some upside according to some projections, he isn’t more than a stopgap answer and a 1.5-win player at most. Any time your next best option is Emilio Bonifacio and your first option isn’t top caliber, your team has failed in managing the position.
Biggest Surprise (Positive): Mike Stanton
I don’t think any Marlins fan would be all that surprised by a breakout performance by Mike Stanton, given that he did very well in the beginning of his major league career in 2010 and was peddled all over the place as a sleeper in fantasy draft cheat sheets. Still, I think we would be lying if we weren’t ultimately impressed by seeing a 22-year old hit 35 home runs in the majors as many of the projection systems are forecasting. Only 32 players in MLB history have hit more than 30 home runs in an age 22 or younger season, and the list has quite a few impressive names. The last player to accomplish the feat was Miguel Cabrera for the Marlins in 2004 and 2005, and he doesn’t have the true 80 power for which scouts have lauded Stanton. If his strikeouts are high, they will remain a problem, but the fact that he managed major league pitching so well last season is a sign that, right now, he can handle the big leagues and could end up mashing a lot of home runs this season. If there’s one strong, compelling story to watch on the Marlins in 2011, it is Stanton and his immense power.
Biggest Surprise (Negative): Chris Coghlan
All offseason I’ve been harping on Coghlan’s potential downside in his positioning in center field. Simply put, this experiment could end very poorly for the Marlins, and the team did not properly prepare themselves for a contingency plan should the plan end spectacularly. We’ll find out as we move into the season, but I’m afraid Coghlan’s defense simply won’t cut it in center field. Beyond that, there is a potential fear that Coghlan’s 2010 problems at the plate will continue in 2011. He struck out too much last season and dropped in walk rate, which is something of concern for a player with no power. If he continues to struggle at the plate despite a second straight season of above average BABIP (expected since he is a speedy singles hitter), he may not be able to support his likely poor defense in center field.