WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Random thoughts on the Marlins from four veteran big-league scouts who have evaluated them this spring:
### There’s more optimism than I expected, based primarily on the pitching staff. “They have some of the better young starters in baseball and a decent bullpen,” one said. "Their pitching is better than Atlanta’s.”
Said another: “Their team is better than the Phillies and Mets. Their pitching is very deep, and they have a power staff. All high quality starters.”
And another said: “I like their team. There’s a lot more positive energy now. I think they can get to .500 and maybe [better] because Philadelphia and New York are in disarray.”
### Among players that have impressed the most this spring: Pitchers Brad Hand and Tom Koehler. Each has allowed one run in 12 innings; one will be in the rotation, one likely in the bullpen. “Koehler’s stuff has gotten better,” one scout said. “He’s already a No. 4-type starter and could end up being a No. 3.”
### Prized lefty prospects Andrew Heaney and Adam Conley, both sent to minor league camp on Monday, also drew plaudits. One scout said: “Heaney can be really special, and Conley had got a good arm; he can relieve or start. I’m very impressed with the amount of good arms they have coming.”
### Concerns were voiced about Marcell Ozuna, who is 5 for 36 this spring. But manager Mike Redmond said today he still expects him to start in center field.
“Last two weeks will be key for him, because this is the time pitchers break out their breaking stuff, and he’s vulnerable to that,” one scout said. “He’s a wild swinger. The tools are there, but he’s had a bad spring. If they go with a [Brian] Bogusevic/Reed Johnson platoon instead, those guys are serviceable.”
Johnson (13 for 29 this spring) has been much better than Bogusevic (6 for 29). Jeff Baker also could see time in left field. And Jake Marisnick can’t be ruled out if he keeps hitting like this (.375 this spring).
Said another scout: “Ozuna has that big Gary Sheffield pump going, and it seems like he’s late getting his hands back and foot down.”
### From a scout perspective, there aren’t many doubts about Christian Yelich, even though he’s hitting .222 this spring. Though Ozuna has the stronger arm, “Yelich looks like a little better center fielder to me,” one scout said. “His range is better. Good instincts. He’s going to hit .280 to .300 in his career.”
### One scout worries about Rafael Furcal, 36, who has battled a hamstring injury this spring after missing all of 2013 with shoulder surgery. “When he has played, I haven’t been impressed,” one scout said. Another said: “Furcal looks heavy to me.”
Donovan Solano (.364 this spring) and Derek Dietrich (.371) are decent options at second base if Furcal misses time in the regular season, and both have hit well this spring. “Dietrich has played better than the Marlins probably expected,” one scout said. “He’s become more disciplined at the plate.”
### One scout said the Marlins are making a mistake if they start the season with Garrett Jones playing every day at first base, instead of platooning with Jeff Baker. Jones is hitting .158 this spring, Baker .296. “Jones can’t hit left-handers, and he’s got a very long swing right now,” one of the scouts said.
### One scout said the Marlins’ biggest worry should be “first, second and third base. Not very good. Casey McGehee [hitting .225] is a stopgap at third. Free-swinging guy. Hasn’t been great. He’ll play a representative third base.”... Another said: “One thing you learn in Japan is how to learn to hit breaking balls. It should make McGehee a better hitter.”
### On the Carlos Marmol experiment: “So far, he has been OK. He has thrown the ball over the plate, which for him is quite a challenge. But can he ever be trusted?” Two scouts said reliever Carter Capps, acquired for Logan Morrison, hasn’t thrown as well as they expected, at least not yet.
### Relievers Henry Rodriguez and Arquimedes Caminero have impressed. “Rodriguez might be a hidden gem,” one scout said. “Throws 98, decent curveball.” Another said Rodriguez “pitched this week as well as I’ve seen in a long time."
Teams are allowed to bring 30 non-local players to their headquarters for draft visits, and the Dolphins are summoning two University of Arizona players to Davie on Wednesday: cornerback Shaquille Richardson (good mix of size at 6-1 and speed, having run a 4.38 in the 40) and outside linebacker Marquis Flowers (a former safety with four interceptions and 6.5 sacks over the past two years). Neither was invited to the NFL Combine, but both have created a buzz.
XL Sports Management’s Marco Marciano, who represents both players with Frank Gaitan, said Flowers’ versatility and ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield is appealing to teams. Players cannot work out during visits to team headquarters but can meet with coaches, management and staff.
### One agent said the Dolphins told him they will be looking for a running back in the draft, and they feel they can find one in the mid-rounds if necessary. The top prospects --- all potential second-rounders --- include Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk and Washington’s Bishop Sankey.... ESPN reported that Denver free agent running back Knowshon Moreno would love to join the Dolphins, but it's unclear if the interest is mutual.
### Though the Dolphins have inquired about Devin Hester, his agent said they hadn’t booked a visit as of Tuesday. Hester made his first visit to Atlanta today…. Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin continues to make the most sense for Miami at No. 19, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Pittsburgh might take him at 15.
### Houston’s Dwight Howard, after battling the Heat’s Greg Oden on Sunday: “He’s got to get his timing back, and it takes a while to do that. He can’t get frustrated.”
But does Oden need to be more of a threat offensively by the time the Heat faces Indiana in the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup? Dwyane Wade insists no: “He does a great job of screening and doing the small things.” The Heat has been outscored by 21 points with Oden on the court this season (entering Tuesday), but he’s much better playing with Chris Bosh --– which is why starting him makes sense.
Oden played well in his third start of the season Tuesday, with six points (3 for 6 from the field) and three rebounds in 14 minutes, his season high. Miami was plus eight with Oden on the floor.
### Couple of other postscripts from Miami's 100-96 win at Cleveland: LeBron James was magnificent, with 43 points (including 25 in the first quarter), six rebounds, four assists and three blocks... Chris Bosh has been Miami's best shooter late in close games this season (topping 54 percent), and he nailed a three to break an 88-88 tie, then hit a jumper to extend the lead...
Udonis Haslem got rare late-game minutes and made the most of them, including a key block of a Dion Waiters shot down the stretch. Haslem had six boards in eight minutes. "He really can make an impact in those short burst minutes with some rebounding and energy," Erik Spoelstra said... With Dwyane Wade (rest) sitting out on the first night of a back-to-back, Toney Douglas started and had nine points and five assists... The offshoot of Oden entering the starting lineup has been Michael Beasley's departure from the rotation. Shane Battier is getting those minutes off the bench.
### UM coach Al Golden said he has given thought to moving Ray Lewis III to running back (where he excelled in high school) but will leave him at cornerback if he’s one of Miami’s top four corners (which doesn’t seem very likely to me)… Golden said he wants to give Corn Elder, recovering from a knee injury, some playing time at receiver this season in addition to cornerback duties… Anthony Chickillo, left off the field on a lot of third downs last season to the surprise of many, said he spoke to coordinator Mark D’Onofrio about that and expects that to change. “I want to be in on third down,” he said.
### Quick plug for a good cause: Merchandise being sold on Superfansportsfundraising.com this week is being used to help raise money for Pembroke Pine Charter Schools, with the school raising the most money getting a visit from Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers. The web site sells all sorts of pro sports and college merchandise.