Do you think Jake Marisnick has a shot at winning an outfield job?
-- Jose C., Wilmington, Del.
Marisnick, rated by MLB.com as the Marlins' top prospect, got a taste of the big leagues last July after he was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville. Like many rookies, the 22-year-old had his early struggles, which wasn't completely surprising since a number of people within the organization felt his offense needed more work even before he got called up.
Marcell Ozuna heads into Spring Training as the front-runner to start in center field. If Marisnick doesn't win the starting job, it's extremely likely that the club will let him play every day for Triple-A New Orleans rather than have him come off the bench in the big leagues.
Defensively, Marisnick is the best center fielder in the organization. It's a matter of getting consistency with his swing and pitch recognition. Until Marisnick does, chances are he will be in Triple-A. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Remember, he won't turn 23 until March 30, and he has just 109 Major League at-bats under his belt. Marisnick has a lot of upside, so it would be best to let him work through things and refine his game. If that takes a few more months, or even the entire year, so be it.
Also keep in mind, Marisnick is recovering from surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. The procedure was performed the day after the 2013 season ended. Marisnick is expected to be fully ready in time for Spring Training, but you never know how the knee will respond.
What are your expectations for the Marlins this year? Do you think they will finish with another 100-loss season, or do you think the pitching will keep them in it? Do they have a chance to have a .500 season and become a surprise team?
-- Justin S., Millersburg, Pa.
Youth, inexperience and injuries to start off 2013 largely led to the club finishing with the second-worst record in franchise history. You can't sugarcoat 100 losses, but remember the club had more players on the disabled list than any other team last April. You basically had the team that could least afford injuries end up with the most. Couple that with inexperience, and Miami got off to a 14-41 start. From that point, the club showed improvement.
With its pitching and offseason additions, this team shouldn't come close to 100 losses this year. Still, the goal isn't to boast about not losing 100 games. The front office is building a foundation around strong pitching. That's the best strategy to turn a franchise into a contender rather quickly.
Before seeing the team in Spring Training, it is a pure guess to predict the number of wins. I could throw out a range of 76-82 and be close. I do think third place in the National League East would be the high-water mark in 2014.
Is Casey McGehee as good on defense as Adeiny Hechavarria and Rafael Furcal? I think defense is very important with our great young pitchers. Good defense will make those great pitching prospects a lot better. I also have the same question for Garrett Jones at first base. Thank you.
-- Jerry K., Plantation, Fla.
You are correct that defense is important. Let's not make any mistakes about it. McGehee was signed not so much for his defense, but because the club feels he will provide more run support with his bat.
McGehee offers versatility because he can also play first base, giving the club a possible option at the position against left-handed pitching.
The last time McGehee played extensively at third base in the big leagues was in 2011, when he was with the Brewers. He appeared in 147 games that year and committed 20 errors, while posting a .942 fielding percentage.
No, McGehee is not on a defensive par with Hechavarria or Furcal, but that's not what the team is seeking. If the Marlins can get average defense from McGehee and Jones, that should be enough.
When talking defense, don't underestimate infield coach Perry Hill's ability to get the most out of his players. It will be interesting to see how McGehee performs while working with Hill.
A few years ago, Hill was the infield coach in Pittsburgh, and he has previous experience with Jones. So the two have some history.
Is signing closer Steve Cishek to an extension something the Marlins would prioritize?
-- Taylor L., Bradenton, Fla.
Cishek's contract situation could be settled by Friday's arbitration salary exchange deadline. Cishek is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and signing him to a multiyear deal has not been considered a serious option.
The Marlins can go year to year for three more seasons with Cishek before he reaches free agency. So technically, the 27-year-old right-hander is part of their long-range plans.
Not only the Marlins, but a number of teams find it risky to place so much salary into a closer. Miami gave it a shot with Heath Bell in 2012, signing him for three years and $27 million. If Cishek's salary demands approach $7 million or more per year, chances are the club will seek other options. From the looks of depth in the organization, the Marlins could have internal candidates in the upcoming seasons.
There is a lot of talk about how good the Marlins' pitching is. Going into Spring Training, who do you think is a sleeper candidate to make the team?
-- Kris M., Coral Gables, Fla.
Nick Wittgren and Colby Suggs are two right-handers who will be in Spring Training as non-roster invitees. Not being on the 40-man roster works against them in actually being with the team on Opening Day. Still, both are highly touted and project to be a big part of the back end of the bullpen in the not-so-distant future. It could be later this year or in 2015.
Wittgren, a ninth-round pick out of Purdue in 2012, is getting rave reviews this offseason. His stock really rose after an impressive Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 19 in 13 2/3 innings to go with a 0.66 ERA.
Suggs, meanwhile, was Miami's supplemental second-round pick out of Arkansas in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. After signing, he struck out 38 in 27 1/3 innings in his first experience in pro ball.
Both have a chance to rise rapidly to the big leagues.
A more realistic reliever to make an immediate impact is Arquimedes Caminero, the hard-throwing right-hander who made 13 appearances with the Marlins late in 2013. He throws in the upper 90s, so if he can command his pitches, he has a chance to be a difference maker.