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2013 Miami Marlins Spring Training primer

With spring training fast approaching, we take an early look at the Miami Marlins.

Facelifts around Miami usually are no big whoop, except when coming only a year after radical reconstruction.

Welcome to the 2013 Miami Marlins.

A new name, new stadium, new uniforms, new manager and several high-priced free agents resulted in nothing more than a second consecutive last-place finish in 2012.

So the Marlins opted to change strategy. They fired manager Ozzie Guillen after one season and traded several star players — most notably pitchers Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes during the offseason.

The team will rely on a blueprint that helped the club win a World Series in 2003 — stressing fundamentally sound baseball with mostly young, hungry players.

Former Marlins catcher Mike Redmond, a member of the ’03 champs, has been hired as manager. Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, who moves from left field to first base, are the only position players returning from last year’s Opening Day lineup. 

Starter Ricky Nolasco and reliever Steve Cishek headline a pitching staff that will include some talented but inexperienced arms.

It all begins Feb. 12, when Marlins pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Jupiter, Fla.

Key Acquisitions: RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechiavarria, C Jeff Mathis, OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco.

Key Losses: RHP Heath Bell, IF/CF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Chad Gaudin, C Brett Hayes, RHP Josh Johnson, 1B Carlos Lee, IF Donnie Murphy, SS Jose Reyes, RHP Carlos Zambrano.

Burning Questions

How competitive can this team be? 

Then-Marlins skipper Joe Girardi earned NL Manger of the Year honors when he led baseball’s youngest and lowest-paid team to a 78-84 record in 2006. Can Mike Redmond enjoy similar success?

That could be tough, not so much because of the team's offseason changes, but because the NL East is loaded with strong playoff contenders in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington.

A relatively inexperienced rotation, likely to include 2012 pickups Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner, must develop and pitch with command. Stanton and Morrison need to be run producers, something they can be only if veterans Placido Polanco, Justin Ruggiano and youngsters such as shortstop Adeiny Hechiavarria and catcher Rob Brantly get on base.

How will Giancarlo Stanton perform? 

Stanton wasted little time in expressing displeasure with the trade that dealt Johnson, Buerhle, Reyes, catcher John Buck and utility man Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto. 

Has time healed this wound?

Stanton will be the everyday right fielder and the main man in the Marlins lineup. His 37 homers, 86 RBI and .290 batting average in 123 games last season simply give indication of great potential, but the problem this season could be lack of lineup protection.

Stanton undoubtedly will get pitched around a lot. Will he be disciplined and accept walks, or will he be overly aggressive -- something that could result in nearly 200 strikeouts and a lower batting average? 

Will prospects emerge to contribute?

The good news for Miami is a bunch of highly touted minor leaguers. The less-than-ideal news? Most of them still need seasoning in the minors.

Righties A.J. Ramos and Arquimedes Caminero could find roles in this year’s bullpen.
Outfielder Alfredo Silverio, a Rule 5 Draft selection, was a highly touted prospect before suffering injuries in a serious auto accident.

Don’t expect to see top prospects right-hander Jose Fernandez or outfielder Christian Yelich on the Opening Day roster. Each could reach the majors at some point in 2013, though both are expected to start the year at Double-A.

Left-hander Justin Nicolino, acquired in the trade with Toronto, is expected to start at Class A and could be a year or two away. The wait could be worth it, as he was MLB.com’s No. 7 left-handed pitching prospect in all the minors.

Andrew Heaney, a left-hander from Oklahoma State, also is expected to open at Jupiter. He struck out 21 and walked only 4 in 20 Class A innings last year.
 
Outfielder Jake Marisnick, also acquired from Toronto, is a five-tool player with blazing speed. He’s projected to open at Double-A.

Yelich, Nicolino, Heaney and Marisnick are 21. Fernandez is 20.

Division Rivals 

The defending NL East champion Washington Nationals begin as the team to beat. And this time, ace Stephen Strasburg won’t have his season shortened by a pitch-count limit. The Nats also will have Bryce Harper for a full season and boast one of the majors’ best bullpens.

Atlanta no longer has Chipper Jones (retired) but the Braves did acquire talented outfielders in brothers B.J. and Justin Upton. Former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez has a pitching staff that could be extremely good.

Philadelphia has a strong rotation that includes righty Roy Halladay and lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The Phillies lineup still includes Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and adds newcomer Michael Young.

The New York Mets traded away Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey but re-signed third baseman David Wright. The Mets are rebuilding, though they appear to be further along than Miami.

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at mac1763@bellsouth.net or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas