Down in Jupiter, Florida, the first sign of spring has arrived: the Miami Marlins have officially kicked off spring training. The Marlins have one of the later report dates for pitchers and catcher, but even before today's mandatory report date, there were many players already showing up at their Jupiter facility. Excitement about the revamped Marlins is high, leading outspoken outfielder Logan Morrison to ask reporters, "Where were you guys last year?"
Media members aren't the only ones clamoring over the Marlins; the Marlins' fanbase is more energized than it has been in years, thanks in part to comments like this:
Good enough, even, to claim the first division title in club history?
"We hope so," Marlins President David Samson says. "The expectations are really high this year for good reason. We have a competitive team. We have a payroll with players that are making enough money that they ought to perform." (Mike Berardino, Sun Sentinel)
The Marlins went on a tear this off-season, signing big-name free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. They also made competitive runs at C.J. Wilson, Albert Pujols, and Yoenis Cespedes. If it wasn't for Wilson's desire to play in his hometown -- and him willingly taking a hit in salary to do so -- the Marlins would be sitting in an even better position right now.
As it is, this looks to be one of the best teams the Marlins have put on the field in a long time. They will have a tough road to reach the playoffs, as the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals are all looking stronger this season, but they certainly will be in the race.
If the Marlins are going to make a run at the playoffs this year, they will need get a big season out of Hanley Ramirez. Their star slugger, Ramirez had a down year and struggled with a should injury, and he's now been asked to move to third base to accommodate Jose Reyes. While the Marlins have told Ramirez not to dive on defense during the spring, he appears to already be handling balls well over at third.
Things won't start to get exciting at spring training for another couple of weeks -- full camp won't begin until this weekend, and games don't begin until March -- but for now, we're one step closer to Opening Day.
For more on the Marlins, drop by SB Nation's blog on the Marlins, Fish Stripes.