February 2010

Marlins owner optimistic about '10

Attending the Marlins first full-squad workout on Wednesday was team owner Jeffrey Loria, who is upbeat about the 2010 season.

After finishing in second place a year ago, Loria says the playoffs are the goal. The organization feels the pieces are in place to play into October.

“I will say that we’re working off 87 wins last year, and I expect us to make the playoffs,” he said.”Whatever it takes to make the playoffs.”

The Marlins retained the nucleus of the squad from the past few years. Continuity is crucial.

“We’ve brought the core of this team back,” Loria said. “They’re well positioned to make the playoffs. We’ve got all the ammunition that we need.”

Among the topics the owner addressed were:

* Reaching the postseason for the first time since 2003, when the franchise won the World Series.

“I am hungry to win,” Loria said. “The only way to win was to do that [keep continuity]. We’re heading towards our new ballpark [in 2012], and I wanted to see us be more successful than we were the last few years. We should have been one of eight last year. I was disappointed at the end of the season. That’s all I will say about that. We have the ability to do it now.”

* The status of manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose job status came in question after the ’09 season. There were reports that the Marlins were interested in bringing in Bobby Valentine.

“I don’t even want to comment on that,” Loria said. “I know a thousand people. I talk to lots of people everywhere and if people blew things out of proportion, I can’t control that.”

* Continuity within the club, including players, coaches and manager.

“Fredi is the manager. Fredi is here. This is his fourth season. Fredi is here to bring the team to the next level.That’s what we’re hoping happens this year. We’ve love to see that this year, obviously.”

* The new ballpark in Little Havana.

“I was down there yesterday, and I couldn’t have been more excited or overwhelmed, or more impressed with how the building is coming,” Loria said.

“It will be something super special, beyond what you can imagine. What you see on paper. That’s been my commitment, going forward, from Day One here. I wanted to see this stadium done. That’s been all I’ve really wanted to see, along with winning teams, and hopefully winning a championship this year. As we go towards that goal of opening on 2012, we are building with the core of these player. We’ll see down the road what we need to add to it. But it’s going to be something that South Florida is going to be proud of.”

— Joe Frisaro



Hanley-Jeter breakdown

They are All-Star shortstops who each wear No. 2.

Derek Jeter, the captain of the defending World Series champion Yankees, is regarded as the standard at his position. Based on his overall numbers and five rings, it is easy to see why.

Still, when discussing the best shortstops in the game, don’t discount Florida’s Hanley Ramirez. The 26-year-old is the defending N.L. batting champion, coming off a .342 season. He’s won two straight Silver Slugger Awards. Manager Fredi Gonzalez quipped to Ramirez, “I was telling him, hey, ‘We’ve got enough silver, we’ve got to get gold this year.” Ramirez hopes to reach Gold Glove status in the field. He committed 10 errors in 2009 after racking up 22 in ’08.

Across the board, Ramirez stands above the rest at his position. He has speed, power, hits for average and he is one of the best baserunners in the game.

If scoring runs and stealing bases are qualifications for being a great base runner, then Hanley (nicknamed H2R) stands alone.

According to Elias, since 2006, Hanley’s rookie season, the Marlins shortstop is the only player in baseball to rank in the top five in runs scored and stolen bases.

Here are the stolen base leaders over that span:

* Jose Reyes, 209
* Carl Crawford, 193
* Juan Pierre, 192
* Chone Figgins, 169
* Hanley Ramirez, 164

The top run scorers since 2006:

* Hanley Ramirez, 470
* Chase Utley, 460
* Albert Pujols, 442
* Jimmy Rollins, 442
* Matt Holliday, 440

“I don’t think there is anything he can’t do on a baseball field,” Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez says of his two-time All-Star shortstop. “He’s got good instincts on the bases. The speed is still there. He goes from first-to-home. That’s when I like to see him run, when he goes first-to-third, or first-to-home on a double. That’s when you see his athleticism.”

The days of Ramirez stealing 50 bases may be over, because he is batting third now.

“You don’t want to beat up that body too much,” Gonzalez said. “But I think he’s a guy who can still run you 30. It’s when you steal them. I’ve seen guys with 50, stealing third with two outs, swiping a base that is really meaningless.”

Since his rookie season, Hanley’s numbers certainly hold up when next to Jeter.

From 2006-09, Ramirez has compiled: 470 runs, 771 hits, 170 doubles, 22 triples, 103 HRs, 313 RBIs, 164 stolen bases, .316 BA, .387 OBP, .531 slug, .918 OPS.

Jeter from 2006-09 posted: 415 runs, 811 hits, 130 doubles, 11 triples, 55 HRs, 305 RBIs, 90 stolen bases, .325 BA, .394 OBP, .453 Slug, .847 OPS.

In his first four big league seasons, from 1996-99, Jeter turned in these figures: 481 runs, 795 hits, 118 doubles, 30 triples, 63 HRs, 334 RBIs, 86 stolen bases, .319 BA, .391 OBP, .467 slg, .858 OPS.

Jeter’s obvious edge … five rings.

— Joe Frisaro

Meet Scott Strickland

This time, Scott Strickland said yes.

So often in the past, the 33-year-old waved no thanks to the offer. That changed when he agreed to a Minor League deal with the Marlins with an invitation to Spring Training.

Strickland, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2005 with the Mets, has been bouncing around with various Triple-A clubs the past four years. He was in the Pirates system in 2006, followed by the Padres in ’07, and the Yankees in ’08, and finally the Dodgers a year ago.

After being turned away so many times before, the Marlins finally landed Strickland, who broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1999. Because Marlins management previously owned the Expos, team officials have known Strickland for more than a decade.

“They’ve been trying to get me the last three or four years,” the right-hander said. “For whatever reason, I’ve always gone somewhere else. Every year, they’ve tried to sign me, and I’ve always gone somewhere else. I don’t know exactly why. Whether it was money, or whatever else. This year I didn’t wait to compare offers. I was like, ‘You know what, these guys came to me quickly like they’ve always done, and I’m going to sign.’ “

Strickland has six years of MLB service time, and he’s appeared in 236 games. In each of the past two seasons, he’s made at least 50 Minor League appearances.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity to come back to the big leagues,” he said. “I’ve been to Triple-A. I’ve been with the Pirates, San Diego, Yankees, Dodgers and now here. I’ve been throwing well. It seems there has never been an opportunity.”

Perhaps his luck will change with the Marlins.

— Joe Frisaro

Full-squad workouts set

Since Saturday, Marlins pitchers and catchers have stolen the show.

Beginning on Wednesday, they will have company. The first full-squad workouts get underway between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium.

On Tuesday, a number of regulars already were fielding ground balls.

Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu were among the regulars on Tuesday taking infield practice. Outfielders Cody Ross, Brett Carroll, Cameron Maybin and Mike Stanton were among the position players in camp.

“I don’t think introductions will even be needed tomorrow,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Everybody has been here a while.

“We get it going tomorrow with live BP. That’s always fun.”

Workouts are open free to the public. Pitchers will be throwing to hitters during the day.

The Marlins right now don’t have any scrimmages scheduled, but the team is kicking around the idea of having one next Tuesday, March 2. Spring games get underway on March 3 against the University of Miami in Jupiter.

— Joe Frisaro

Hanley strengthening lower body

In preparing for the 2009 season, Hanley Ramirez did extensive workouts for his upper body, seeking to get stronger because he was moving into the third spot in the batting order.

A leadoff hitter his first three big league seasons, Ramirez bulked up for the power spot in the lineup.

To get ready for Spring Training this year, Ramirez’s focus was to strengthen his lower body.

These past few months, at his home in the Dominican Republic, the Marlins All-Star spent time conditioning his legs. He did a lot of agility drills, as well as lifting weights. 

“I did more working out my lower body this year,” said Ramirez, the defending N.L. batting title winner. “I think I’m going to need it for the end of the year. I wanted to add something new.

“I was like, kind of running out [of steam] a little bit at the end of [2009]. I was telling myself that I have to do something to help my lower body. Sometimes you are running out of gas and you feel like you’re running out of power in your lower body. I need my lower body. I’m keep doing it right now.”

The Marlins have their first full-squad workouts on Wednesday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex. Ramirez and a number of position players were at camp on Tuesday.

Ramirez didn’t pick up a baseball until January.

“As a player, you need your lower body to do everything,” Ramirez said. “To pitch. To play defense. To run. Everything.

“I haven’t run lately. I feel a little bit heavier, but it’s just the beginning. By Opening Day, I’ll be ready to go.”

Ramirez says the added leg strength should help his speed, quickness and range.

— Joe Frisaro


Meet Ryan Tucker

Talent evaluators say Ryan Tucker has a power arm and tremendous potential.

One of five former first-round picks the Marlins had in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Tucker is now a 23-year-old looking to reach the next level. He’s had a taste of the big leagues, making 13 appearances (with six starts) in 2008.

Last year, the California native was held back because of injuries. He underwent quad surgery on his left leg early in the season, and later on dealt with an oblique problem.

“I tore apart my quad where it attached to my kneecap,” said Tucker, who was in the same Draft class as Chris Volstad and Sean West. “It was a thing that happened over time. Then I had an oblique injury at the end of the season. It was just a real long year last year. I’d never missed a game [due to injury] throughout the Minor Leagues until last year.”

The year, however, wasn’t totally lost, because in late September, he became the father of twin girls.

“It’s been a busy off season. I’ve been ready to get here, and get some sleep,” said Tucker, who makes Pasadena home.

“I’ve been throwing the whole winter,” he said. “It was a pretty short year for me last year. I was wanting to get going. I feel I’m right on pace. I don’t know what’s going to happen, or where I’m going to go [when the season starts].”

Because he missed so much time last year, Tucker is a long shot to make the Opening Day roster. Still, he is a hard-thrower who the club feels will eventually be a factor on the big league roster.

Tucker can either start or relieve. Because of his upper-90s fastball, some feel he could eventually close in his career.

Asked about if the is a starter or reliever candidate a few days ago, Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said he just wants the right-hander to be healthy. From there, the organization will figure out how to use him.

“I’m sure they would like to make sure I’m healthy first,” Tucker said. “Even in Spring Training last year, I was dealing with a knee issue. When we broke camp, they told me I was the [Triple-A] Opening Day starter, and I was really excited about that.

“I just want to come in here now ready. I want to show them that I took it seriously in the offseason. I’m coming in giving it my best chance to make it. If I don’t make it, I don’t make it. That’s kind of how it goes.”

— Joe Frisaro



Cantu takes his cuts

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J.J. and his new haircut

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Throwing in Jupiter

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High school reunion

Once rivals in high school, they’re now potential teammates in the big leagues.

Two-time All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla once played high school baseball against reliever Derrick Turnbow, who is striving to make the roster on a Minor League contract.

Both played prep ball in Tennessee.

Turnbow attended Franklin High, while Uggla was at Columbia Central High.

When Uggla was a junior, he faced Turnbow, then a senior. A number of scouts were on hand to watch Turnbow.

Uggla remembers hitting a double.

“That’s the only hit I ever got off him,” Uggla said.

Turnbow, though, struck Uggla out twice in that game. From what Uggla recalls, Columbia pulled out a close win, despite having three hits.

At the big league level, Uggla has three plate appearances against Turnbow. Twice he struck out, and he also drew a walk.

— Joe Frisaro