It seems like every year a non-roster invitee impresses in Spring Training and makes the team. Chad Qualls did it last year. Is there an invitee who could surprise us this spring, specifically a pitcher?
-- Wayne M., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
A prime candidate is a 2013 teammate of Qualls. Kevin Slowey, you may recall, also was in Spring Training on a Minor League contract with a big league invite. A forearm injury caused the right-hander to miss the second half, but he again will be in camp in a similar situation. If healthy, Slowey could seize the moment and win an Opening Day roster spot, either as a fifth starter or a long reliever.
Slowey would appear to be a long shot to make the Opening Day roster. But so much changes when Spring Training begins. There are always injuries and other factors that come into play.
Prospects like Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino are highly touted lefties getting closer to being big league ready. You never want to rule out anyone completely, but a more realistic scenario for both of them is to open at either Double-A or Triple-A, and reach the big leagues when they are a little more seasoned.
I know Jose Fernandez made the leap to the big leagues at age 20 last spring, but that was done out of necessity due to injuries.
There is a business side to the sport. Service time matters. It would seem the Marlins have enough candidates to avoid rushing Heaney or Nicolino. That said, if either one makes a convincing case, they could earn an Opening Day roster spot.
Is there any possibility the Marlins will make signing Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term contract a priority?
-- Michael G., Doral, Fla.
As reported a few days ago, both sides agreed it was best to focus specifically on 2014. Stanton was arbitration-eligible for the first time, and his salary has jumped from $537,000 in '13 to $6.5 million. So he is not complaining. Neither are the Marlins.
An arbitration hearing was avoided, and both sides are pleased with the outcome.
Without a long-term deal, I understand people will continue to ask this question. As of now, it is not a priority for either side. Perhaps that will change. But it certainly appears Stanton is moving toward reaching free agency after the 2016 season, and an eventual multiyear deal with Miami seems unlikely.
Technically, the Marlins could go year to year with Stanton and retain him for three more seasons. Chances are, though, he could be with Miami for no more than two more seasons. How the team and Stanton perform will largely determine that.
I think both sides are a little skeptical of a long-term commitment. Stanton wants to see the direction the team is headed, and the club wants to see if the slugger can stay healthy a whole year. That leaves you with a one-year deal and a wait-and-see situation.
Could the Marlins be looking to sign pitcher A.J. Burnett to add more experience to the rotation?
-- Joshua O., Puerto Rico
Bringing Burnett back to South Florida is not something the club is considering. Yes, Burnett was a Marlin, but he didn't exactly leave on great terms.
Burnett turned 37 a few weeks ago, and he is weighing retirement. If he returns, he could be leaning toward going back to Pittsburgh.
Burnett, obviously, was a former teammate of Miami manager Mike Redmond. But the veteran isn't a fit right now.
Starting pitching is a strength of the Marlins, and there are candidates who will be in Spring Training who are capable of securing roster spots.
When the Marlins signed Rafael Furcal, they said he had agreed to play second base because the team already has a shortstop. But what are the chances that Furcal will replace Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop? Donovan Solano then could play second. Both Furcal and Solano are much better hitters than Hech, and would the team really lose much defensively? Isn't an upgrade at the plate a priority?
-- Pancho V., Miami Lakes, Fla.
Barring an injury to Hechavarria, there is no chance of this happening.
Obviously, Hechavarria had his struggles at the plate last year, but the club firmly believes his productivity will rise with experience. Many within the organization feel Hechavarria may not fully blossom at the plate for several more seasons. Because of his raw talent, the Marlins are willing to give him that chance.
Defensively, Miami believes he is among the best in the game. That can be debated when reviewing defensive metrics. Still, Hechavarria has the skill set and athleticism to be elite.
When Furcal signed, he spoke highly about Hechavarria to the front office. I expect Furcal will be somewhat of a mentor to Hechavarria. Also keep in mind, Furcal missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Those long throws from shortstop are not what the team is looking for at this stage of Furcal's career.
Clearly, the Marlins are looking for more offense. But shortstop is a position, I think, the team would sacrifice some production at the plate for defense.
The Marlins claimed Paredes off waivers from the Astros a few months ago. The 25-year-old has one more option left, which means Miami doesn't risk losing his services if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster.
Paredes will be interesting to follow in Spring Training. He's a 6-foot-3, 200-pound speedster who can play infield and outfield. So he fits the utility mold. The fact Paredes is already on the 40-man roster is an advantage. He also switch-hits.
How exactly Paredes fits is to be determined. Bogusevic is likely to be the fourth outfielder. Solano and Lucas are backup infielders as well.
For Paredes, it will come down to how he looks at the plate. If he hits, he will have a good shot. It's as simple as that, because Paredes could make an impact as a defender and a baserunner.