It’s that time of year again when the great states of Florida and Arizona are invaded by Major League Baseball teams about to embark on the journey that is a 162-game baseball season. On Sunday, the Mariners were the first team of the year to report to camp. Soon, every team will be in their respective camp working out. Spring Training is a time for stars to relax and loosen up their bodies for a season under the umbrella of perfect spring weather in Florida or Arizona. But it is also a time for minor league invitees to toil through practice and conditioning, in order to prove themselves as Major League material.
Two years ago to the day I was making preparations to go down to Jupiter, Florida, the spring training home of the Marlins, and witness first hand its relaxing atmosphere. I must say, Spring Training is an ultimate fan experience for an baseball enthusiast. I would strongly encourage making the effort to see your team at camp. The atmosphere is relaxed and personal, players are accessible to fans, and spring games cost MUCH less than regular season games.
When teams journey south (except in the Marlins’ case) for the spring, it marks a special beginning. More often than not, clubs have made significant offseason changes and, Spring Training is the first test of how the team will turn out. But for the Miami Marlins, the 2012 spring training will be an especially significant beginning.
For the first time, the Miami Marlins will take the field as a team. There are so many new aspects to this franchise–between the stadium, the players, and the uniforms–that I find it difficult at points to realize that this is the same franchise that wore teal at Sun Life Stadium not five months ago. This will be the first year without the iconic Marlins “F” logo, and the first year with orange uniforms. How will this “look” actually look?
Aside from the appearance, the players composing the Miami Marlins will be facing tests as well. Hanley Ramirez will be making the switch from shortstop to third base. Ozzie Guillen predicts that Ramirez will accept the position and work hard to adjust, but how well will he perform? Jose Reyes will be without his dreadlocks for the first time in 5 seasons, but more importantly he will be adjusting to completely new teammates. The Marlins pitchers will be involved in mound visits with Ozzie Guillen and an all-Spanish-fluent infield. Will Josh Johnson go crazy? If Carlos Zambrano is on the mound, how will John Buck cope?
But in all seriousness, Spring Training is a time of tests and trials. Ramirez will take fungoes at third while Jose Reyes works double plays with Omar Infante. Josh Johnson will be throwing in a game setting for the first time in nine months. Johnson and Ramirez are both coming off injury-plagued seasons, and the success of their spring work will foreshadow the success of their seasons. Johnson and Ramirez’s performances this year will make or break the Marlins’ season. Even beyond those two players, Miami still has questions to answer and holes to fill.
Right now, Emilio Bonifacio is slated as the centerfielder, but the team has more options. Despite missing out Yoenis Cespedes, the club has a plethora of candidates for the job, including minor leaguers Bryan Petersen and Chris Coghlan. Also, Aaron Rowand was signed to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason to give Bonifacio some veteran competition for the spot. Spring Training will decide who starts in center for Miami come Opening Night.
The starting rotation is yet to be set. The front office made it clear that slotting the pitching rotation will be up to Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has stated that he wants Josh Johnson to be the ace, followed by Mark Buehrle. Currently projected for the 3-5 slots are Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, and Ricky Nolasco.
Obviously, Heath Bell will closing for the Marlins this season, but the rest of the bullpen is nebulous. Wade LeBlanc, Alex Sanabia, Brad Hand, and Sean West all have experience as starters. But unfortunately for them, as the starting rotation looks solid, they will have to fight for a long-relief role in the ‘pen. Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly Leo Nuñez, looks like he will fill the set-up slot. Mike Dunn, Randy Choate, Steve Cishek, Edward Mujuca, and Ryan Webb should compose the relief blocks.
Spring Training is a time to test out new strategies, work out new players, and answer rising questions. The Miami Marlins have a lot to accomplish this spring to make their all-new 2012 season a memorable one for more than just their new look and new team. Miami’s pitchers and catchers report February 22nd.