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One MissingIngredient
All those mashers and good young arms—and, alas, so few guys who can catch theball

THERE AREN'T manyworse workplace experiences than having your boss pull you aside to privatelygive you a sarcastic Hey, nice job. But there are a few. Like having your bossinterrupt a press conference to publicly give you a sarcastic Hey, nice job.The Marlins found that out when they made four errors in their GrapefruitLeague opener, a 5--5 tie against the Cardinals. While most of the players werecontent to write it off as rust—"Hey, man, first day," said shortstopHanley Ramirez, who made one of the miscues—team president Larry Beinfestwasn't so forgiving. He interrupted manager Fredi Gonzalez's postgame talk withreporters to share this acerbic assessment: "More runs than errors: We'lltake it as a positive."

Fielding isunderstandably a sore spot for Beinfest. In 2008—a season in which theysurprisingly won 84 games and lingered around the wild-card race until lateSeptember—the Marlins made 117 errors, second only to the Nationals in the NL.With a roster that makes less than Alex Rodriguez, Florida isn't going tooverwhelm opponents with star power. If the Marlins win, it'll be by limitingtheir mistakes and not putting their young pitchers in a hole by giving awayouts. (Not that the hurlers are completely innocent; the less said about AnibalSanchez and his .636 fielding percentage, the better.)

That's not to saythat Florida's staff can't work its way out of trouble. The top threestarters—Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad—last year combined for a.683 winning percentage, a 3.40 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. And the two guys who fillout the rotation are potentially dominant: Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter as arookie in 2006, and Andrew Miller, a gas-throwing lefty who was taken No. 6 bythe Tigers in '06. None of the five are older than 26. "They're young, butthey're more advanced than most guys at the same age," says pitching coachMark Wiley. "And they definitely feel like they belong here. They're intothe game, they compete, they have the stuff. There are no issues with any ofthose guys."

Well, there isone issue: Only Miller and Volstad haven't missed substantial time due toinjury in the past two seasons. But Wiley believes that an injury to a youngpitcher can prove beneficial. "They can come back better because they payattention to things that are more important, like conditioning and making fewermaximum-effort pitches," he says. The 6'7" Johnson, for instance,dropped 30 pounds during rehab after his 2007 Tommy John surgery. He returnedlast July and went 7--1 in 14 starts.

But the realrevelation was Nolasco, 26, who emerged as an ace (15 wins and a 1.10 WHIP)after spending almost all of 2007 in the minors rehabbing his inflamed rightelbow. While he might seem ripe for a letdown now that hitters have had a yearto see his stuff, Nolasco throws so many pitches and gives so many looks thathe's virtually impossible to peg. "It's almost like he made up pitches ashe went along," says Miller, who charted most of Nolasco's starts lastyear. "He was a different pitcher every week. He'd throw a lot of cuttersone game, then it'd be curveballs, then the next game it'd be his changeup. Henever gave hitters a chance to get comfortable."

Another factorworking in Nolasco's favor: He's a strikeout--fly ball pitcher, which shouldkeep the ball away from the Marlins' granite-gloved infielders. Their mostmemorable 2008 performance came at the All-Star Game, in which second basemanDan Uggla set a record with three errors. Uggla's double play partner, Ramirez,was no Hoover himself, and he did little to improve his limited range byputting on 25 pounds with a rigorous off-season workout program.

But, man, canUggla and Ramirez rake. Last year they became the first middle infield combo tohit 30 homers apiece. And the lineup will only get stronger with the additionof centerfielder Cameron Maybin, who batted .500 in a September call-up lastyear, then had an impressive spring. With those sticks and the Marlins'maturing staff, Uggla and Ramirez have an outside chance of booting routineground balls in October.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

With HanleyRamirez moving down to the three hole, manager Fredi Gonzalez has beenauditioning a number of players in the leadoff spot this spring. The spot islikely to go to 22-year-old Cameron Maybin, who has excellent speed and hasshown some ability to draw walks and get on base—he did both in the SouthernLeague last year. However, his high strikeout rate and lack of playing timeabove Double A make him a risk at the top of the order. A better idea would beto jump-start Jeremy Hermida's stalled career by using him in the top spot. Thelefty-swinging Hermida (left) is extremely patient, seeing more than fourpitches per plate appearance, and his career OBP of .342 sticks out on a teamthat can count on only Ramirez and perhaps second baseman Dan Uggla to have ahigher percentage.


New closer MattLindstrom's unimpressive WHIP in 2008. But his numbers were skewed by aterrible first half in which everything opponents got wood on seemed to fall:Lindstrom's WHIP was 1.85 largely because opponents hit .393 on balls put inplay. (The NL average was .300; anything much higher than that can beattributed to bad luck.) In the second half opponents hit .269 on balls inplay, and his WHIP was a solid 1.07.

The Lineup

Manager FrediGonzalez

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

(R) Rookie
*Double A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


March 12, 2001

There are those who believe that the Marlins and theirnine hot young pitchers haven't accomplished nearly enough to evoke comparisonsto the great boy groups. Only Ryan (Dempster), A.J. (Burnett), Brad (Penny) andJason (Grilli) boast major league experience, and they've combined for a 38--39record in 112 starts. Those are hardly Jackson 5--quality numbers. Not tomention Atlanta Braves--quality stats. Yet ... "I've been doing this for 22years, and this is the best group of young arms that I've ever seen," saysone scout. "These guys are as good as the Braves were when they explodedwith Smoltz and Glavine and Avery."

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NEED A HAND Ramirez is one of the league's top five offensive threats, but he has to raise his defensive game.