Is Hanley ready for MVP-like season?

JUPITER, Fla. — Healthy and happy, Hanley Ramirez appears primed for a big year.

Just how big?

Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez thinks the three-time All-Star is capable of MVP numbers.

“We got three key free agents everybody talks about,” Perez said. “My other free agent is Hanley. We got a top-notch free agent third baseman. He’s MVP material.”

The Marlins, of course, signed Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle in the offseason. The way Ramirez has adjusted to third base, and how he is swinging the bat is one of the most positive stories of camp.

“What I see as a good sign is when he can drive the ball to right-center, and not lob it into right field,” Perez said. “Now he’s driving it into left-center and left field. The one he hit [Saturday] was a pitch middle-in. The one he hit in St. Lucie, on an 0-2 count, was a pitch down-and-in. He’s throwing his hands now and his hips are being used to perfection.”

Ramirez had surgery on his left shoulder late last year. But he dealt with a back strain for most of the year.

The fact that Ramirez’s back is once again strong is a big reason he’s hitting so well right now.

“It’s a big year for him,” Perez said. “I think he’s going to be again, one of the top players in the league, and maybe the top player in the league. Health is huge. Environment is great, and he’s being put into a situation to succeed. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He’s learning a new position. He’s embracing it. He’s not letting that affect at all, his offense, and we’re seeing it now. Hopefully, he can carry it into the season.”

On June 11, 2011, he went on the disabled list with a left lower back strain. But the discomfort plagued him well before that.

“It’s about core,” Perez said. “Your back, it affects your legs, and you’re not comfortable. He’s healthy now. At the beginning, everybody was talking about the shoulder, and it’s not. He’s strong there. But now, he’s strong with his back.”

Joe Frisaro

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