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3 Florida Marlins As they stockpile arms for the future, the Marlins have little hope of winning now

Another hopeless season seems about to dawn for the 1997 World
Series champion Marlins, but, argues manager John Boles, the
situation isn't as bad as it appears. "We believe in what we're
doing and where we're going," says Boles, Florida's former
player-development guru who became manager in October 1998. "If I
didn't believe in our future, I would have never gone through the
last two years."

While many teams have been pursuing a win-now strategy, the
Marlins have been hoarding the most valuable commodity in the
game--young arms. If all goes according to plan, the Marlins will
become the richest team in terms of pitching talent by 2003, when
Florida hopes to open a new ballpark that will support a payroll
expected to be upward of $50 million. Until that day comes--if it
ever does--the Marlins will continue, like an Internet start-up,
to accept their losses while building the business. "We're hoping
that a lot of our guys hit their stride at one time," Boles says.
"That could make us a lot more competitive than people think
we'll be."

The key player is righthander Alex Fernandez, 30, the oldest man
on Florida's $19 million roster. "I'm trying to get myself
ready," says Fernandez, who hopes to pitch 175 innings in his
continuing recovery from 1998 rotator cuff surgery, "but if these
guys have any questions, I'm here to help them. I pitched in the
big leagues when I was 20. I've gone through pretty much every
situation you can go through."

In Fernandez the young Marlins have a father figure who speaks
eloquently by example. Having lost a few miles off his fastball,
he has learned the hows and whys of his craft. "Last year they
had him on a 100-pitch limit," says 22-year-old righty starter
Ryan Dempster. "He couldn't waste pitches. Every pitch had a

Competing for a spot in the rotation is righthander Brad Penny,
who has a mid-90s fastball and who arrived from Arizona last
year in a trade for closer Matt Mantei. The 6'4" Penny is
likened by some observers to the Dodgers' Kevin Brown in his
fiery mound temperament. Penny has been dating the granddaughter
of Warren Spahn and has sought advice from the Hall of Famer. "I
asked him to show me his changeup grip, and it was totally
different from what anyone uses today," he says, smiling. "I'd
never seen anything like it. Maybe that's why he was so good. He
had stuff nobody else has."

Closer Antonio Alfonseca, a righty, converted 21 of 23 save
opportunities after Mantei was traded. He has six fingers on
each hand and six toes on each foot; but more impressive to his
employers is the 50 pounds he has lost since last year. Florida
is hoping that the addition of veteran righthanded setup man Dan
Miceli and the continued improvement of lefty Armando
Almanza--he pitched out of two bases-loaded, no-outs situations
during a monthlong audition last season--will help diminish one
of 1999's glaring shortcomings: The Marlins blew 18 of the 74
games in which they led or were tied after seven innings.

Two young position players whom Florida is counting on are
rightfielder Mark Kotsay and first baseman Derrek Lee. Both are
24, and both stumbled offensively last year. The Marlins would
like to see Kotsay, who had only 50 RBIs in 1999, drive in more
runs; they would also like to see the 6'5", 225-pound Lee, who
hit just five homers, reach his 40-dinger potential. Lee spent
the winter in his hometown of Sacramento, working out with
fellow resident Greg Vaughn. He, Kotsay and several of their
teammates showed up in outstanding shape after a winter of hard
work in the weight room. "I wish there were a direct correlation
between muscle gain and productivity," Boles says. "Then we'd be

In 24-year-old second baseman and leadoff hitter Luis Castillo,
who could challenge for the league lead in steals, and
25-year-old second-year centerfielder Preston Wilson, who will
hit cleanup this year, Florida has a couple of budding
mainstays. "All of us realize we're in similar situations,"
Wilson says. "We just need to see everybody be a better player
at the end of the season than he was on Opening Day. That will
translate into wins."

In the meantime the youthful Marlins will have more fun than you
might think. "Our guys are not so sophisticated yet where they
are self-centered," Boles says. "I was making a pitching change
last year, and I can't remember who we were playing, but I
looked around, and our third baseman, shortstop, second baseman
and first baseman were all at second base, talking to the star
player of the other team. To some extent our guys still can't
believe they're up here."


COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE BIG FISH The hope is that Fernandez, a 10-year veteran, can provide leadership--and 175 innings--for the young Marlins.


around the HORN

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by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .263 (12)
Runs scored 691 (16)
Home runs 128 (16)

1999 record: 64-98 (fifth in NL East)

Opponents' batting average .281 (13)
ERA 4.90 (12)
Fielding percentage .979 (10)

next up...

Third baseman MIKE LOWELL believes the surgery and treatment he
underwent for testicular cancer have made him a better player.
His illness was diagnosed last February following a trade by the
Yankees to his hometown Marlins. Thereafter, he had radiation
therapy for several weeks. "Mentally, I'm definitely stronger,"
says the 26-year-old Lowell. "I went through the mental roller
coaster. At first I was so excited about the trade and the
season. Then I didn't care about baseball--I just wanted
everything to work out all right." Lowell returned to the
Marlins for 97 games last year, but it wasn't until the final
two months that he began to recover his strength. Florida is
hoping that Lowell, who hit 12 homers in 308 at bats in 1999,
can slam about 30 this season. "I've gone through adversity that
most guys don't have to face," he says. "Last year taught me
what I have to do to get ready. I'm looking forward to comparing
what I did last year with what I do this year."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: John Boles (second season with Florida)


2B Luis Castillo S-R 137 .302 0 28 50
SS Alex Gonzalez R 145 .277 14 59 3
LF Cliff Floyd L-R 107 .303 11 49 5
CF Preston Wilson R 54 .280 26 71 11
3B Mike Lowell R 181 .253 12 47 0
RF Mark Kotsay L 227 .271 8 50 7
1B Derrek Lee R 264 .206 5 20 2
C Ramon Castro (R) R 339 .179 2 4 0


IF Kevin Millar R 226 .285 9 67 1
OF Brant Brown L 229 .232 16 58 3
IF Dave Berg R 315 .286 3 25 2
OF Danny Bautista R 317 .288 5 24 3
C Mike Redmond R 399 .302 1 27 0


RH Alex Fernandez 58 7 8 5.9 1.25 3.38
RH Ryan Dempster 147 7 8 5.9 1.63 4.71
RH Vladimir Nunez 132 4 8 5.7 1.37 4.58
RH Brad Penny*(R) 245 3 7 5.3 1.44 4.56
LH Jesus Sanchez 285 5 7 4.2 1.89 6.01


RH Antonio Alfonseca 76 4 5 21 1.39 3.24
RH Dan Miceli 236 4 5 2 1.50 4.46
LH Armando Almanza (R) 257 0 1 0 1.09 1.72
RH Braden Looper 269 3 3 0 1.53 3.80
RH Jared Camp (R) 306 0 0 1 1.59 0.84
LH Vic Darensbourg 391 0 1 0 2.05 8.83

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Double A stats
Triple A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Marlins

The Marlins will be much improved, but I don't think they can win
more than 70 to 75 games.... I was surprised they let Antonio
Alfonseca pitch winter ball--that's a lot of extra work for a guy
you want closing every game. I wonder what his arm is going to be
like by midseason.... Florida has some very good young pitchers.
Brad Penny has an explosive fastball and a killer breaking ball,
and he's an animal. I don't know if he's ready to win or not, but
guys like Maddux and Smoltz and Avery took their lumps before
winning. Penny is that good.... Righthander Ryan Dempster has
slightly better than average stuff, but he shouldn't be a No. 2
starter.... It's sink or swim for Derrek Lee. Many of us are
dubious about his future. He makes no adjustments on breaking
balls, and he's passive at the plate. If the Marlins can deal
him, they should do it while another team still sees an
upside.... Mike Lowell, Preston Wilson and Cliff Floyd are all
good young players with power.