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Manso's Marlins prediction: There's a real reason to care about this team

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(Associated Press)

MIAMI – It’s that time of the year again. My favorite time in sports. The start of the Major League Baseball season.

I seem to be in the minority in South Florida these days of thinking that way. I get it. The Marlins don’t give you much reason for hope.

While some communities are dreaming of the playoffs and have star players to root for every night, the Marlins offer an enhanced ballpark experience and a roster filled with a who’s who of who’s that.

I’m not going to spend time here sugarcoating this opening day roster and outlook for 2019. This team will be bad. Likely, very bad.

But, as the season is set to begin, this is the best I’ve felt about the Marlins organization in a long time. It’s year two of the Derek Jeter era, and so far, I like the plan that’s been put in place for the future.

Like last year, before I get to the season prediction, I have to give my general outlook of what the Marlins are doing. They’re rebuilding. Jeter calls it simply “building,” but that’s just a cute way of saying starting from scratch. That’s what they’re doing, and I’m all for it.  

It’s incredible to me how much the organization has changed in one year. Gone are Stanton, Gordon, Yelich, Ozuna, Realmuto and others. They’ve been replaced with a revamped farm system, well spent international money and a focus on improving the in-game ballpark experience for fans.

I mention that experience because, while it may not mean much to some fans, the new regime has really made Marlins Park more of their own. The color scheme, food choices, seating options and overall feel has completely changed. If feels nothing like the Marlins Park that Jeffrey Loria and David Samson helped build, and trust me, that’s completely by design.

That “build” that Jeter talks about means discarding just about anything and everything from the prior regime.

The Marlins treated this like an expansion franchise. They gutted the leftover mess of the highest payroll in team history and awful farm system to start looking toward the future.

Mission accomplished. This team finally has some organizational stability and vision.  

Now to the bad news. That vision takes time, and if the Marlins treated this like an expansion team, the final version of what we’ll see at the major league level for 2019 is just about that.

This team has no superstars. They don’t even have a 2nd tier star. The core of the batting order has gone from Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna and Realmuto to Walker, Cooper, Anderson and Brinson.  

Ouch. That won’t inspire much fear from the opponents.

Look, the Marlins have some intriguing pieces for the future to open the season. Brian Anderson will look to build off of a very solid rookie season and is the closest thing to a constant the Fish lineup will have. Lewis Brinson gets a second crack to show why he was the centerpiece in the Yelich tade.  

Starlin Castro is a proven major leaguer, though he doesn’t seem like a real part of the future plans. Neil Walker, Martin Prado and Curtis Granderson are great clubhouse veterans and can also produce in some spots.

But, overall, this offense won’t be good. They just don’t have of anything that stands out. Little power, little speed and little reason to believe they can consistently score runs in maybe the toughest division in baseball.

I’m interested to see a full season of catcher Jorge Alfaro and OF/1B Garrett Cooper. I wonder if either can be a part of the rebuild plan for the future.

Outside of that, there isn’t much intrigue to this offense.

The real intrigue is in the minors, where prospects like Monte Harrsion, Victor Victor Mesa, Connor Scott, Isan Diaz, Will Banfield and others are developing and considered strong parts of Miami’s future core.

The outlook for some of those players should be exciting to Marlins fans, but that won’t help much when it comes to the 2019 version of this team.

The pitching is where it gets a little more interesting on the big league level.

The team decided to start the season going young in the rotation, and I like that plan. Why not? This team knows internally they’re not competing for anything this season, so you need to see how these young and talented arms handle a full season with the big club.

Jose Urena is the one known commodity. Unfortunately, what we’ve grown to know about him is that he’s inconsistent. He’s the ace by default. Urena is more suited to be a No. 3-4 type starter, but in Miami, he’s going to be the one pitcher expected to pitch every 5th day and eat up innings.

After that, it’s the youth movement. Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith all have a chance to be part of the Marlins long term vision.

Each has strong potential, with Alcantara looking like a potential frontline starter. The same can be said for Lopez, while Richards and Smith have both flashed in limited chances in the majors.

The problem is this; it’s a 162 game season and all these guys haven’t thrown many innings. They can’t be expected to make huge leaps in innings for 2019. Richards pitched 126 innings last year, Alcantara made 6 starts and Miami has to be careful with him. Smith has under 100 innings at the MLB level and Lopez hasn’t thrown more than 145 innings in any minor league season.

The Marlins opted for youth, but with that comes ups and downs and lots of patience. They can’t and won’t run these arms into the ground.  

Miami kept Wei-Yin Chen around to spot start or mop up innings throughout the season, but I would caution anyone who expects some sort of break out season from this Marlins rotation.

I hope and expect all these young starters to flash some exciting potential, but we know injuries happen, and it’s hard to count on this rotation to be consistent for an entire season.

All of that will add up to a taxed bullpen by the middle of the season.

Finally, I go back to the division. The Marlins are in one of the few divisions in baseball where every team seems to be trying to win right now. There’s no rebuild talk going on with the Phillies, Nationals, Braves and Mets. All of these teams have made significant changes over the last couple of seasons and expect to be playoff contenders.

That’ll be tough for the Marlins to have to deal with for over 70 games.

Again, I don’t want to sound too negative. I really like what the Marlins have done for the long term in a very short amount of time.

They have a clear direction.

Unfortunately, that direction and rebuilding usually includes a long of short term pain and losing.

I feel for manager Don Mattingly. He’ll do his best with the hand he’s dealt, but he likely won’t be around to reap the rewards for the foundation being laid.  

I can’t think of many managers who survive multiple 95-100 loss seasons in a rebuild. With his contract up at the end of this season, this will very likely be his last managing the club.

So what do I think the Marlins will finish this season? Well, two of the last three seasons I’ve hit the Marlins final record right on, and last season I missed their exact record by one game.

As always, I hope I’m wrong because I would love to see this be a surprise team. I don’t see it happening.

But, be patient. I do believe the future can be bright. For now, just try and think about that as you watch a lot of losses.

2019 Marlins record prediction: 61-101


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