JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Five things to know about the Miami Marlins as they start spring training camp:
THEY NEED TO PRACTICE HITTING: Last year, on the 20th anniversary of their expansion season, the Marlins scored fewer runs than that ragtag 1993 team. Miami finished last in the majors in most of the significant offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs and home runs. They ranked last in the majors in slugging at three positions – catcher, first base and third base. They could have new starters at all three spots this season, but the newcomers come with question marks.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a career-high .273 last year but slumped badly during the postseason with the World Series champion Red Sox. First baseman Garrett Jones lost his starting job with the Pirates late last season and batted only twice in the playoffs. Third baseman Casey McGehee batted .217 with two teams in 2012, then spent last year in Japan.
YOUNG ARMS: The Marlins’ rotation will be one of the youngest in the majors, and it might also be one of the best. The ace is 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who went 12-6 despite poor run support and had a 2.19 ERA with 187 strikeouts in 172 2-3 innings. He pledges to be even better now that he’s 21.
The rotation will also include 23-year-old Henderson Alvarez, who lowered his ERA to 3.59 by pitching a no-hitter on the final day of the season; 22-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner, who had a 3.74 ERA in 20 starts; and 24-year-old right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who had a 3.56 ERA in 18 starts. Another youngster might crack the rotation at some point this season: 22-year-old left-hander Andrew Heaney, the Marlins’ top prospect.
STANTON TRIES TO EARN HIS PAY: Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s worst season was followed by his biggest pay raise. The slugger battled injuries in 2013 and batted a career-low .249 with 24 home runs and 74 RBIs. He then became eligible for arbitration for the first time and signed a $6.5 million, one-year contract, a hefty hike from last year’s $537,000. Stanton has 117 homers in his four major league seasons and is only 24. He’s a frequent subject of trade speculation, and it’s unclear whether the thrifty Marlins will offer him a long-term deal or trade him, perhaps after this year.
CHANGE AT THE TOP: The Marlins have new leadership in the front office but the same tightfisted owner in Jeffrey Loria, which meant no blockbuster deals during the offseason. New president of baseball operations Mike Hill was promoted to replace Larry Beinfest, who was fired after 12 years with the Marlins. But because poor attendance has meant lower-than-predicted revenue in the Marlins’ 2-year-old ballpark, the team will continue to rely on young, cheap, homegrown talent. Along with the precocious pitchers, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are all 24 or younger.
TIME FOR A TURNAROUND?: Feeble offense is the reason the Marlins lost 100 games, finished last in the NL East for the third consecutive season and missed the playoffs for the 10th year in a row. The Marlins’ loss total has risen each of past four years. They should reverse that trend with just a little more scoring, because they were 34-55 in games decided by one or two runs in 2013.