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Marlins are baseball's most intriguing team

With leaders and talent, Miami poised to excite this season
March 15, 2016

There will be arguments from close to 29 precincts, but the most interesting team in Major League Baseball happens to be coming off a 71-91 season in which it never got closer than 11 games to the National League East lead after July 4.That's right, South Florida, your Marlins are

There will be arguments from close to 29 precincts, but the most interesting team in Major League Baseball happens to be coming off a 71-91 season in which it never got closer than 11 games to the National League East lead after July 4.
That's right, South Florida, your Marlins are the most intriguing team in the industry entering the 2016 season. Nobody has a clue how things will go -- they could contend or extend to seven their run of losing seasons -- but it's going to be a rollicking ride for sure.
The personalities in this operation are just too compelling to ignore.
Perched at the top is a pair of superstar talents -- Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez -- capable of being the Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden of their era as dominating, surreal performers.
Like Straw in his Mets youth, Stanton is a charismatic right fielder who launches baseballs farther and with more force than anyone. Like Doc in his prime, Fernandez has a two-pitch combination -- overpowering fastball, knee-buckling curveball -- that is untouchable when he's right.

With a full season of good health, Stanton and Fernandez can lift and carry a team the way Straw and Doc headlined the Amazin's in the mid-1980s.
All Stanton needs to reach the 50-homer plateau is better luck with his Adonis body. All Fernandez needs is full recovery from Tommy John surgery performed in May 2014. NL Most Valuable Player Awards and NL Cy Young Awards could go to these teammates soon, if not this season.
• Stanton's knee passes test in return to lineup
Set to make his spring debut on Thursday against the Mets, Fernandez will have lefty rotation support from Wei-Yin Chen, a valued free-agent acquisition.

Not that he needs help, but Stanton now has access to the mind of the most prolific home-run hitter in history. Barry Bonds has arrived in good cheer to pass along his knowledge as hitting coach for new manager Don Mattingly, another man rich in hitting wisdom.
In the aftermath of three consecutive NL West titles with the Dodgers followed by deflating Octobers, Mattingly looks relaxed and comfortable in Florida, free of suffocating expectations.
Mattingly, who brought highly respected Tim Wallach from L.A. to be his bench coach, has the tools to make good things happen.
The hitters quickly gravitated to Bonds, whose knowledge of the craft is unquestioned. And there are weapons in his arsenal, apart from Stanton's eye-popping gifts.
Leadoff man Dee Gordon, the reigning NL batting champion, is an electric athlete who has transformed himself into a Gold Glove Award winner at second base while leading the league in steals each of the past two seasons. You don't need both hands to identify players as exciting as Gordon.

Projected to be the No. 2 hitter, Marcell Ozuna, 25, is motivated to deliver a breakout season and prove he's the five-tool center fielder talent appraisers believe he is. His 2015 was disappointing, but Ozuna's .772 OPS in 153 games in 2014 reflects his capabilities.
A gap hitter with speed, Christian Yelich, 24, is an ideal No. 3 hitter in Mattingly's scheme. A top-five defender in left field, Yelich has a .290/.365/.406 career slash line.
The king of exit velocity, Stanton had 27 homers and 67 RBIs in half a season -- 74 games. There are no limits to how high Superman can fly.
Hitting behind Stanton is another big man who can launch. Justin Bour lifted 23 homers in 409 at-bats with an OPS of .800.
Defensively, few clubs look as impressive up the middle. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is making strides with the tutelage of backup Jeff Mathis, one of the game's elite receivers for a decade. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has the breathtaking skills to claim a Gold Glove, matching Gordon's. Ozuna's offensive slump carried over to his defense last year, but in 2014, he was sixth among all center fielders in runs saved.

And then there's Ichiro Suzuki, the most stylish player of his generation with the possible exceptions of Derek Jeter and Adrian Beltre.
Cast as the fourth outfielder, Ichiro is 65 hits away from 3,000 on his way to Cooperstown, N.Y. Counting his years in Japan before joining the Mariners in 2001, Ichiro has 4,213 hits -- 43 shy of all-time hit king Pete Rose.
Questions about pitching depth are hardly unique to the Marlins. Everyone has them. But few teams have Fernandez, Stanton, Gordon -- and leadership from legendary figures fully aware of what it takes to be great.
If the stars cooperate and align, South Florida will be a summer attraction for more than its beaches and spectacular views.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer.