JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins will go into the 2010 season with one of the lowest payrolls in the big leagues, but ownership is seemingly putting the heat on manager Fredi Gonzalez to make the playoffs this year. Owner Jeffrey Loria felt his club was good enough to play in October last year, and he feels even stronger about that notion this year.
There are obvious reasons for that mentality — two big ones are Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez — but certain things will have to happen for that to become a reality.
For starters, Cameron Maybin (pictured) will have to finally demonstrate at the highest level what has made him one of the most promising young players in the game in recent years.
I really believe Maybin’s struggles last year (a .254 batting average in 54 games) had a lot to do with the fact he was hitting eighth. Batting in that spot of the lineup in the National League is really difficult since you’re not getting many pitches to hit with the pitcher behind you, especially when you’re an aggressive hitter like Maybin, who sports a career .475 slugging percentage in the Minor Leagues.
Gonzalez told me that “in a perfect world” he’d like to avoid batting Maybin eighth and that he sees him as his No. 2 hitter — between leadoff man Chris Coghlan and No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez. But that can change.
Here’s what Maybin said when I asked him what his ideal spot in the lineup is: I’ve always hit at the top of the order. That’s all I’ve been telling everybody. I’ve always been a guy that hit in the top of the order in the Minor Leagues. Here, we’ve got so many weapons. It’s just one of those things. The things I can bring to the table, you can put me in a lot of places.
I’m still unsure of where Maybin belongs in a Major League lineup, because he’s got the speed to be a leadoff hitter and the power to be a middle-of-the-order guy. It’s a lot like Hanley in the beginning of his career. Ramirez began as a leadoff hitter with the Marlins, but now he’s a full-fledged power hitter (though, of course, he can hit for a high average, get on base and steal bases, too).
So, what about Maybin? Is he a run producer or a run scorer? He says he doesn’t really have to choose.
“I just want to affect the game in as many ways as I can with my ability, that’s my plan,” he said. “However that may be, by knocking them in or scoring from first base on base hits, that’s what I do, man.
“If you’re hitting in the middle of the order, you’re looking to drive runs in. If you’re hitting at the top, you’re looking to get on base. … I just want to be whatever I can be. Everybody asks these difficult questions. It’s all about helping the team win — bottom line. Whether it’s one-two, eight-nine [in the lineup].”
As spectacular as Coghlan was at the top of the order en route to winning Rookie of the Year for the NL, I believe he is the prototypical No. 2 hitter. The only problem is the Marlins haven’t really had a truly leadoff hitter since Juan Pierre left, and Maybin strikes out too often to be a top-of-the-order guy.
But when asked if he believes he can be an everyday leadoff hitter in the big leagues, Maybin said, “Absolutely. Why not, man?” Still, though, he added that he loves hitting behind Coghlan — like he’s done through so many years in the Minors — and that’s ideally where he’ll be in 2010.
Here are his Major League-career splits from the different spots in the lineup …
* 1st: 46 AB, .304 BA, .699 OPS, 1 RBI
* 2nd: 83 AB, .325 BA, .861 OPS, 1 HR, 7 RBI
* 3rd: 3 AB, .333 BA, 1.000 OPS, 1 RBI
* 4th: 1 PA, 1 SH
* 5th: 2 AB, 1 H
* 6th: 1 PA, 1 BB
* 7th: 10 AB, .333 BA, 1.067 OPS, 1 HR, 4 RBI
* 8th: 93 AB, .194 BA, .594 OPS, 2 HR, 3 RBI
* 9th: 21 AB, .190 BA, .689 OPS, 1 HR, 1 RBI
As for that whole playoffs thing, is it unfair to demand postseason from a team with that kind of payroll? I think the Marlins will be fine, and I think they’ll be in the thick of things all year (everyone in the league pretty much feels the same way). But the NL East has become the deepest division in the Major Leagues, and I see zero weaknesses on the Phillies.
Here’s what Fredi had to say: There’s no reason why we can’t make a run at this. A lot of things have to go right. You can drop $100 million on this team, and it would be hard to get five wins better [than the 87 wins of 2009]. But I like the guys that we have here. The pitching has got to be better, more consistent than last year, and then we’ll see what happens in July, when it’s time to get another piece.