We continue our tour around the National League East as we stop in Miami. Tommy Hutton, a former major leaguer and current Marlins broadcaster who has been around baseball for 47 years, breaks down the 2011 Florida Marlins and what to expect.
The biggest off season change was the trade of All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves. How does that alter the Marlins on offense? Will they have to make a similar adjustment to what the Nationals expect with the departure of slugger Adam Dunn?
"I think it is going to be a different type offense because you are going to miss the 30 home runs that Dan Uggla provided," Hutton said. "But I also think the offense is going to be less susceptible to striking out and will still be able generate some runs."
Hutton believes other parts of the lineup will make up for the power lost from Uggla's departure.
"Last year, collectively, the Marlins catchers hit nine home runs," Hutton said. "John Buck was signed to a three-year contract and he is going to be behind the plate. He hit 20 home runs last year from Toronto."
Young players and veterans will have to chip in on offense.
"Mike Stanton will be with the team all year instead of 300 or 400 at-bats," Hutton said. "I think he is going to provide some of that home run power. Logan Morrison is going to hit more than he hit last year. Hanley Ramirez, I think, will have a better year than he had in 2010.
"I think the Marlins' defense is going to be a lot better than it was last year. If the defense is better and you are not giving up as many home runs, then you don't have to hit as many home runs."
Chris Coghlan continues to be a bright spot for the Marlins and is learning how to play center field. Hutton believes Coghlan can make the transition, but must watch out for the rigors of a 162-game season in an expansive outfield.
"I don't think as far as learning he will have a problem," Hutton said. "I think he is a sharp enough baseball guy; he learned how to play left field. He is going to learn how to play there. Where I have a little concern is physically. Can he stand up to the pressure of playing out there because of all the running? It is a big center field in south Florida. He is coming off knee surgery. So, physically I hope he can handle it. Mentally, I know he can handle it because he is a good ball player."
Left fielder Morrison is 23, Coghlan is 25 and right-fielder Stanton is only 21. When you see Stanton is only 21, it gives Nats fans some hope with 18-year-old phenom Bryce Harper learning how to play an outfield position.
Third base is where the Marlins had hoped to feature youngster Matt Dominguez, but he is mired in a 1-for-28 spring slump. Veteran Wes Helms has worked with Dominguez throughout camp.
First baseman Gaby Sanchez was impressive last year. He was close in the Rookie of the Year voting won by Buster Posey. Hutton said the club expects more of the same this season from Sanchez.
"He is a solid hitter," Hutton said. "He is going get between 15 and 20 home runs. He drove in over 80 runs last year. I think he is just going to get better."
Then there is the starting pitching for the Marlins. I joked with Hutton that the Florida rotation could be the envy of the Miami Heat if the basketball team needed some backup power forwards during their stretch drive.
"You got Josh Johnson and he is one of the game's best," Hutton said. "He led the league in ERA last year. He is 6-foot-7. Chris Volstad is 6-foot-8. I think a key acquisition was the signing of Javier Vazquez. He is a veteran you can put in with Anibal Sanchez, Volstad and Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco is a guy who totally comes in under the radar and wins 13 to 15 games every year and people forget about him. That is a pretty solid rotation."
Hutton said the Marlins were very concerned after the bullpen got roughed up in 2010, so the team made many changes.
"The relief corps was a minus last year with 25 blown saves," Hutton said. "It was just horrific. The ball club has made huge adjustments. They brought in Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb from San Diego. Those two guys were part of a real good bullpen in San Diego.
"They got Mike Dunn, a real good left-hander from Atlanta, in the Uggla trade. They signed Randy Choate, a veteran match-up left-handed guy. They have Leo Nunez and Clay Hensley. Nunez will probably close. You throw in a Brian Sanches and a Burke Badenhop. It is a much improved bullpen from last year."
Then there is the new (yet unnamed) baseball park which opens next season the team is already buzzing about. The retractable roof dome is in downtown Miami and will seat 36,000 with 1,000 standing room spaces.
"It will be phenomenal," Hutton said. "We have been down there for a tour. It is absolutely gorgeous. Most of the seats are in good locations and you will be right on top of the players."
Hutton said it will be big for the players and day-to-day operations because of all the rain delays that will be avoided. Many times, players cannot take batting practice at the football stadium because of afternoon thunder showers that come through.