Miami Marlins Season Preview: Spring Training Surprises

Hanley Ramirez of the Miami Marlins has been smoldering hot in Spring Training, but what does that mean for the 2012 season? Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

The regular season is fast approaching, and the Marlins have a few spots on their team that they need to determine before the season begins. The performances seen in Spring Training may contribute to what players do or do not make the team, and the question of whether those players will continue playing as well as they have in Spring Training naturally will come up. Let's take a look at some performances from Spring Training that deserve a closer look and see if we can't determine pseudo-reality from fiction.

Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez PA AVG OBP SLG
Spring Training 26 .409 .519 .773
ZiPS Proj 580 .283 .365 .459

Obviously, Ramirez will not be hitting as well as indicated by his Spring Training numbers, as his 26 PA sample has been out of this world. However, as mentioned in this article. there is something of importance to point out regarding Ramirez's health. If Ramirez struggled during his time in Spring Training, there could be questions on whether he had fully recovered from shoulder surgery. With him mashing the way he is, we can at least decently confident that his health is mostly returned. There have been stories about him improving his work ethic and training extremely hard this offseason, all of which are encouraging but ultimately meaningless. The fact that everyone has had nothing but praise for Hanley's play thus far in terms of technical skill can only bode well as well. Essentially, the numbers here are not telling that Ramirez will have a monster season so much as they are telling that he may be fully healthy and ready to have a season at all.

Jose Reyes

Reyes PA AVG OBP SLG
Spring Training 22 .182 .182 .273
ZiPS Proj 549 .302 .353 .471

This spat with poor hitting is just a blip in Reyes's radar. By the time he headlines the team's lineup in the 2012 season opener, the Marlins should have exactly what they paid for this offseason: the best playmaking, speedy contact hitter in the majors. The Marlins should not be the least bit concerned.

Austin Kearns

Kearns PA AVG OBP SLG
Spring Training 21 .368 .478 .684
ZiPS Proj 272 .220 .326 .323

Kearns is a veteran outfielder who is a strong defender in the corners but is not someone who is capable of handling center field. The Marlins already have two players of similar ilk, except those two (Scott Cousins and Bryan Petersen) can play an adequate, if not above average, center field. None of the three players mentioned are expected to hit all that well, though Petersen's 2011 season convinced most projection systems that he is at least adequate. Kearns's last adequate season at the plate was 2010, but prior to that it was 2007. His best days are behind him, and the Marlins would be wise to ignore the hot spring in favor of one of their younger pieces.

Mark Buehrle

Buehrle IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Spring Training 6 1/3 4.3 4.3 9.95
ZiPS Proj 178 5.1 2.0 3.69

Yet again, this is another blip in the radar for the newest Marlins addition. Manager Ozzie Guillen has related that Buehrle always looks "ugly" in Spring Training, and we know what we have seen from Buehrle after that. Having not watched any of Buehrle's performances in Spring Training in the past, I would be willing to trust Guillen on this one rather than trust my own instincts, and even my instincts say that Buehrle will be back to his old self during the regular season.

Wade Leblanc

Leblanc IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Spring Training 10 1/3 7.8 0.0 0.00
ZiPS Proj 164 2/3 6.8 3.0 4.40

I was surprised to see the quality of Leblanc's projections, but when you look at his last three seasons, it does tend to make sense.

Leblanc, Year IP K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR
2011 79 2/3 15.0 8.3 4.63 3.98 0.4
2010 146 17.6 8.2 4.25 4.80 0.6
2009 46 1/3 15.5 9.8 3.69 4.97 0.1
2009-2011 272 16.5 8.5 4.27 4.59 1.1

He obviously has not been very effective, but he has had some serviceable seasons under his belt. A 4.40 ERA from a player like him is not completely unfeasible, especially given that moving from Petco Park to Marlins Park may not be as severe a run environment climb as expected. Still, obviously he is not as good as his Spring Training numbers have shown, but the Marlins have had past success in picking up soft tossers and shifting them to the bullpen to maximize their effectiveness. Leblanc, who by all means appears to be a run-of-the-mill weak-tossing lefty, lacks tools, but the Fish may be able to move him to the bullpen and improve his capabilities like they did with Clay Hensley. Of course, I would not bet on it, and I would count on seeing Leblanc as the team's emergency spot starter rather than a significant piece of the 2012 puzzle, even with his initial impressive performance.

Carlos Zambrano

Zambrano IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Spring Training 9 1/3 15.4 4.8 4.82
ZiPS Proj 137 7.6 4.2 4.20

Many people are seeing encouraging things about Zambrano, and I have to admit that I like what I hear. The primary focus on all of the positive energy involved is not the ERA, but rather the radar gun. We had heard reports that Zambrano was throwing 94-95 mph in the winter league this offseason, and that has been confirmed to some degree in Spring Training this year. From CBSSports updates:

"The last couple of years, I think he has been sitting at 88, 92. Today he threw a bunch of 96s, 97. His arm looked really good today," Atlanta's Brian McCann said.

If that is indeed the case, that is enormous news for a Marlins team that is only depending on Zambrano to be their fifth starter. Zambrano's velocity has dipped consistently as the years have worn on, going from around 92 mph on average in 2007 to just about 90 mph on average last season. This has to have been cutting into his productivity, and as we saw last year with Javier Vazquez, a return on velocity can greatly impact a player's performance. If Zambrano's velocity is back up, then we can take some of his Spring Training performance and attribute it to this improvement, which means that we could be seeing a player closer to the 2009 version of him rather than the 2011 version.

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