March 2013

Projecting how roster is shaping up

MIAMI — For players on the bubble to earn an Opening Day roster spot, the time is now to step up.

If the early part of Spring Training was to get in shape, these next few weeks are to show you belong.

Jobs are up for grabs, and Marlins’ management is looking.

As tough decisions are about to be made, one thing is clear — being on the 40-man roster helps.

That’s why I believe Kyle Skipworth will be the backup catcher to Rob Brantly. Skipworth already is on the 40-man roster, making it easier on the organization to find a fill-in until Jeff Mathis’ broken right collarbone heals.

In my opinion, right now I consider 20 players on the 40-man roster as either locks or they have a clear advantage to make the team. Ten of them are pitchers.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume I’m right. That means as many as five non-roster invitees can make the team. This is where those already on the 40-man have a big advantage.

The Marlins like a number of those players who recently were sent to the Minor Leagues. For example, Brad Hand, who has had his struggles throwing strikes, is a promising talent. He’s a left-hander who throws in the 91-94 mph range. He’s young, has upside and he’s on the 40-man.

If the Marlins were to make him a trade chip, a number of clubs would be interested. Plus, Miami doesn’t have much left-handed starting pitching depth. So his 40-man spot is pretty much safe, especially with him having options.

Miami already is at its 40-man limit.

One possibility to free up roster space is to place outfielder Alfredo Silverio (right elbow) on the 60-day disabled list. That likely will happen.

These are a big few weeks for lefty reliever Braulio Lara, a Rule 5 claim in December. He has to make the team or be offered back to Tampa Bay, if he isn’t in Miami’s plans. So that could be a second spot.

Kevin Slowey, John Maine, Mitch Talbot and Chad Qualls are non-roster invitees in the mix for either the fifth starter spot or a reliever position. Most likely, two of them will make it.

Casey Kotchman, who is batting .407, is a non-roster invitee who appears to have the inside track to being the Opening Day first baseman. Joe Mahoney, also competing at first base, is on the 40-man. If he doesn’t win the job, he could go down to Triple-A New Orleans.

One question there could be, how long will Logan Morrison be out? LoMo is expected to start the season on the disabled list. If he is to miss around two weeks, a short-term solution could be used at first base. Maybe Mahoney? If he is out much longer, then Kotchman is a very strong choice to stay.

For the rest of the infield, Donovan Solano, Adeiny Hechavarria, Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs are all on the team. Dobbs and Polanco have missed time in Spring Training with injuries. In their cases, it’s a matter of if they will start the season healthy or on the DL.

Say they are healthy, that means non-roster invitees, Austin Kearns, Nick Green, Matt Downs, Chone Figgins, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chris Valaika are in the mix for two or three spots.

Of that group, Green and Figgins are the best defensive shortstops, which puts one of the two in a favorable spot. Downs and Valaika play short, but not as well.

There is a need for a right-handed pinch-hit bat with power potential. Kearns had that spot for Miami in 2012. But he’s had a rough camp so far. Kouzmanoff and Downs are in contention for that spot, too.

The outfield also gets tricky. Juan Pierre is set in left, and Giancarlo Stanton is in right field. Chris Coghlan has had a good camp. He and Justin Ruggiano have been regarded as the frontrunners for weeks. But Ruggiano missed most of camp with a back strain, and in recent days he started playing. Both pretty much are going to make the club. The question is, who starts?

That answer may become the surprise of camp.

Christian Yelich, one of the top prospects in the game, hasn’t played above Class A ball, but he’s arguably been the best player in camp.

One scout covering the World Baseball Classic told me he ranked Yelich as the best player in the Arizona Fall League.

If Yelich makes the team it would be as the starting center fielder. But right now, he’s also not on the 40-man roster. So the club would have to create room for him, too.

Gorkys Hernandez is on the 40-man. The book on him is, great glove, weak bat. It’s been pretty much the same in Spring Training.

Bryan Petersen has big league experience, but he also is a non-roster invitee.

The roster picture is becoming more clear. In these final few weeks, performancne likely will decide.

Joe Frisaro

Top prospect Fernandez sent to Minors

MIAMI — From the first day of Spring Training, it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when Jose Fernandez would be sent down.

The when turned out to be Wednesday.

The Marlins announced Fernandez has been reassigned to Minor League camp. The 20-year-old right-hander is expected to start the season at Double-A Jacksonville.

One reason the organization has waited to make inevitable moves is because Minor League camp started recently, and now the teams are beginning to play scrimmage games. There was no sense in sending players down earlier, when other Minor Leaguers were going through conditioning drills that players in big league camp did a month ago.

The Marlins also have reassigned outfielder Jake Marisnick to Minor League camp. The 21-year-old will start off at Jacksonville, but he will not be ready for Opening Day.

Marisnick will be out at least a month with a broken bone in his left hand.

The third transaction by Miami was optioning reliever Chris Hatcher to Triple-A New Orleans.

Fernandez is Miami’s top-rated prospect.

The hard-throwing right-hander is ranked seventh on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect list.

Miami’s first-round pick in 2011, Fernandez saw action in one Grapefruit League game, throwing two scoreless innings with two strikes. He also threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings in an exhibition against Team Venezuela.

Fernandez has not pitched above Class A ball. If he enjoys a strong first half at Jacksonville, he could get a call-up to the Marlins, perhaps as early as June.

Marisnick is expected to be the starting center fielder at Jacksonville. Defensively, he is big league ready right now. How much he hits will determined when he is ready to reach the big leagues. Foremost right now is allowing the bone to heal in his left hand.

Marisnick broke his hand after being plunked on the back of his left hand by a Trevor Rosenthal fastball in an game against St. Louis.

Joe Frisaro

Fair or not, Minor Leagues still likely for Yelich

Christian Yelich signs after hitting walk-off homer.

Christian Yelich signs after hitting walk-off homer.

JUPITER, Fla. — Already this spring, Christian Yelich has hit leadoff and walk-off home runs. Yet, in a few days, odds are the Marlins’ touted outfield prospect will be hitting the road out of big league camp.

Fair?

Not hardly. If you want fairness, you won’t always find it in Spring Training. And this isn’t just the Marlins who have to make these tough decisions.

A year ago, the Nationals started Bryce Harper off in the Minors, even though he pretty much was big league ready. In 2010, Giancarlo Stanton, then 20, was an emerging force who tempted the front office, but ultimately started off at Double-A Jacksonville.

The plan has always been to give Yelich and Jose Fernandez — two of the best prospects in the game — a taste of big league camp before sending them down.

Minor League camp is underway for the Marlins, and those teams are starting to play simulated games. By the middle of the week, and the weekend, scrimmages will get underway. Perhaps by then, Yelich will be switching sides at the Roger Dean Stadium complex. He’s already game-tested, so it would be a waste of time to have him facing pitchers throwing live-BP behind screens.

Still, what Yelich is accomplishing has to be giving Miami’s front office something to think about.

Yelich was the hero on Monday, belting a two-out, two-run, walk-off homer in the ninth inning in the Marlins’ 8-7 win over the Red Sox.

On hand to see the heroics was Yelich’s mom, Alecia, who has traveled from her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to catch a few games. She’s already been treated to some memorable moments.

Her first game was Sunday, and that too, turned out to be an occasion. Yelich hit a home run against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista. So she’s seen two homers in two days.

Aside from perhaps Donovan Solano, batting .480 (12-for-25), it’s hard to argue that Yelich hasn’t been the Marlins’ best player in Spring Training. In 14 games, he is hitting .375 (12-for-32) with three homers and a team-high 11 RBIs.

The way he’s playing is showing he is really close to being big league ready, if he isn’t already.

“That’s a tough conversation,” manager Mike Redmond said. “I’m sure we’ll have to talk about it. We want to make sure we do what’s best for him and the organization. I think we’ve all seen guys who have great springs and struggle out of the chute too. We’ve all seen that.

“But I’m happy for him and the way he is swinging the bat. That’s all that matters right now.”

There are reasons to start Yelich off at Double-A. First, he has never played above Class A. And you don’t want to get too carried away with Spring Training numbers. You also don’t want to rush a 21-year-old.

There also is the business side of things. If he starts off too early, his arbitration service clock begins. A more realistic callup time would be in early to mid June.

Then there is the issue of the players competing for the center field job. Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan each have track records of success in the big leagues. They need their repetitions in hopes of being ready.

Then you have Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Petersen, who are also competing for outfield spots.

You can’t overlook the importance of the impact on the 40-man roster.

The Marlins already are at 40, and they will need to add some of their non-roster invitees, who make the team. That number could trim if Rule 5 pick, Alfredo Silverio, who has a strained right elbow, starts off on the 40-man roster. That would free one spot. Lefty reliever Braulio Lara, another Rule 5 pick, also is on the 40-man roster. A decision will have to be made on him.

The Marlins have a number of spots to fill and several of them likely are going to non-roster invitees. For instance, you have Nick Green, Chone Figgins and Matt Downs who could each play all infield positions.

All the logical thinking points to Yelich starting off at Double-A.

Still, I keep going back to a conversation I had with an American League scout who is following the Marlins. Recently, he said, if the team were keeping its best 25 players, Yelich right now would be playing on Opening Day.

Joe Frisaro

Marisnick out with left hand fracture

JUPITER, Fla. — Still experiencing soreness in his left hand, Jake Marisnick on Monday had a second X-ray taken.

The results revealed some bad news.

Miami’s 21-year-old outfield prospect has a fracture, and he will be out about a month.

“We did find out that Marisnick broke his hand,” manager Mike Redmond said. “He has a break in his hand. So he’s going to be out for a while. Disappointing.”

Marisnick, the Marlins’ No. 3 ranked prospect, was injured against the Cardinals on March 6 when he was plunked by a Trevor Rosenthal fastball on the left hand. An X-ray that day came back negative.

He has not seen game action since. On Monday, with the hand still sore, he saw the doctor again for a second X-ray.

The Marlins acquired Marisnick from the Blue Jays as part of their blockbuster, 12-player trade in November. He was 5-for-11 in eight Grapefruit League games.

Marisnick is not expected to be ready for Double-A Jacksonville’s Opening Day.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins make nine cuts Monday

JUPITER, Fla. — A second round of cuts were made by the Marlins on Monday, and two of the moves impact the starting rotation.

Miami optioned right-hander Alex Sanabia and lefty Brad Hand to Triple-A New Orleans. Both were in the mix for the fifth starter spot.

Also on Monday, outfielder Kyle Jensen and reliever Evan Reed were optioned to New Orleans.

The team also optioned Sam Dyson, Edgar Olmos and Marcell Ozuna to Double-A Jacksonville. Jordan Smith and Wilfredo Gimenez were re-assigned to Minor League camp.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins set to face Red Sox

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins will face the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m ET at Roger Dean Stadium.

Kevin Slowey, a non-roster invitee competing for either a rotation or long relief spot, will make the start for Miami. Jon Lester is starting for Boston.

In the morning, outfield prospect, Marcell Ozuna, was sent down to Minor League camp. Ozuna is expected to play right field for Double-A Jacksonville.

Third baseman Placido Polanco is still taking it easy for a few more days with a strained right oblique.

MARLINS

1) Pierre, LF

2) Solano, 2B

3) Ruggiano, CF

4) Valaika, DH

5) Brantly, C

6) Kearns, RF

7) Kotchman, 1B

8) Lucas, 3B

9) Hechavarria, SS

Joe Frisaro

Marlins face Yankees; game televised

JUPITER, Fla. — FOX Sports Florida on Friday will be televising its first Marlins’ Spring Training game.

Miami takes on the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET. at Roger Dean Stadium.

The game also will be televised on MLB.TV.

The Marlins are starting Nathan Eovaldi, in the mix to be either the second or third starter. New York is starting right-handed prospect, Adam Warren.

Marlins prospect Christian Yelich, who grew up a Derek Jeter fan, will be used as the designated hitter.

MARLINS

1) Pierre, LF

2) Solano, 2B

3) Brantly, C

4) Downs, 3B

5) Yelich, DH

6) Hechavarria, SS

7) Kotchman, 1B

8) Coghlan, CF

9) Hernandez, RF

Joe Frisaro

First wave of Marlins’ cuts

JUPITER, Fla. — The first wave of cuts came at Marlins’ camp on Friday morning, and 11 players were told they will not be making the Opening Day roster.

Most of the moves were expected.

Right-handed reliever Michael Wuertz was released.

Lefty Scott Maine was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. Right-hander Arquimendes Caminero, perhaps the hardest-thrower in the organization, and third baseman Zack Cox were optioned to Double-A Jacksonville.

Michael Brady (RHP), Adam Conley (LHP), Brian Flynn (LHP), Raudel Lazo (LHP), Danny Black (INF), Derek Dietrich (INF) and Kevin Mattison (OF) were reassigned to Minor League camp.

The Marlins opened camp with 73 players. A few days ago, lefty Andrew Heaney was reassigned to undergo rehab for a strained lat.

Alfredo Silverio, a Rule 5 pick in December, will be out several weeks with a right elbow strain.

Joe Frisaro

Nolasco named Opening Day starter

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Moments after the Marlins lost 4-1 to the Mets on Thursday afternoon, manager Mike Redmond announced Ricky Nolasco will be the Opening Day starter.

The news was expected, but official word came following Nolasco’s impressive 3 2/3 inning performance against the Mets.

“He knows how to pitch. He knows the league,” Redmond said. “I think he will definitely help some of our young guys about how to pitch certain hitters in certain situations. That experience, we don’t have a lot of that, whether it is in the bullpen or with our starters. He’s that guy who definitely our young guys will look to for a little guidance.”

Redmond didn’t announce who would follow Nolasco in the rotation.

Miami opens on April 1 at Washington.

Joe Frisaro

Ruggiano scheduled to play Saturday

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Justin Ruggiano’s recovery process is nearly complete.

Manager Mike Redmond said Thursday morning that Ruggiano is scheduled to start in center field on Saturday when the Marlins face the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

Miami actually has a split-squad day Saturday, with half the team heading to Viera to face the Nationals. Alex Sanabia will start against the Nationals, and Jacob Turner will start against the Cardinals in Jupiter.

Top prospect, Jose Fernandez, is scheduled to pitch in relief on Saturday at Washington.

Getting Ruggiano in the lineup will heat up the competition for the starting center field job. Chris Coghlan, Gorkys Hernandez, Bryan Petersen and Kevin Mattison also are in consideration.

Ruggiano entered Spring Training with the inside edge based on a solid 2012. But a few days before Grapefruit League games got underway on Feb. 23, Ruggiano suffered a back strain.

In recent days, he increased his activities. On Thursday, he did some fielding and hitting at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

“We’ll try to get him in there for a couple of at-bats,” Redmond said. “He’s going to do everything today — full BP, run around in the outfield a little bit. We’ll get him out there. Get him moving around a little bit. He says he is ready. He is excited to go.”

Although he was solid in the outfield last year, Redmond noted players must earn their spots.

“He did a nice job last year, but you still have to earn it,” Redmond said. “He’s been banged up. We need to get him on the field. Coghlan has done a nice job out there. Gorkys Hernandez, we continue to run him out there. I think it’s going to be a nice competition out there, to see who steps up and takes that job.

“What you did last year, it does count. But at the same time, too. It’s what have you done for me lately. It just is.”

Joe Frisaro

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