Rays-Marlins Preview with Marlin Maniac’s Ehsan Kassim


Over the past couple days I got to talk with Ehsan Kassim, editor of the Marlins site Marlin Maniac, about the Marlins and their upcoming series with the Rays. Let’s learn a little bit about the opposition.

Robbie Knopf: The Marlins had the best record in baseball in May. What suddenly clicked?

Ehsan Kassim: The Marlins pitched well in both April and May, so that was never a problem. The biggest difference for the Marlins in the month of May was the fact that Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Jose Reyes caught fire and took off for the team.

The month of May belonged to no other then Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton was the player of the month of May for the National League. Hanley Ramirez began to remind us why he was considered a superstar and could be headed back to that stardom. Jose Reyes deemed that he was worth the money that the Marlins spent on him during the off-season.

The month of May was a great month for the Marlins, but now it is up for the Marlins to keep it up. Were the struggles of April or the success of May the true Marlins 2012 team? I would say it’s somewhere in between.

RK: Carlos Zambrano has been the Marlins best starter at least in terms of ERA, managing a very good 2.81 mark. FIP is a little worse at 3.69. What have you seen from him and how good of a trade has the Zambrano-Chris Volstad deal been for the Fish?

EK: Carlos Zambrano has been nothing short of a major shock for Marlins fans. Even if he envisioned the best season for him, he would not be posting these types of numbers. The Marlins are getting quite a bargain.

As for the Volstad-Zambrano trade, I will have to admit that I was wrong. I thought that the Marlins were getting the short end of the stick, as I still believed that Volstad could turn it around. Well, three months into the season, Volstad is in the minors and Zambrano is dominating major league hitters. The Cubs are paying most of Big Z’s salary, so the Marlins are easily winning this trade.

Zambrano appears to be a different person this season. He has done a much better job of keeping his anger in check and that has helped his pitching a lot as well.

RK: On the opposite end of the spectrum, past ace Josh Johnson has been getting hit hard, allowing 10.6 hits per 9 innings, leading to a 4.56 ERA, but his FIP is great at 2.89. How far away is he from returning to the dominant pitcher we know he can be?

I have a lot of doubts about Josh Johnson ever being that same dominant pitcher that he was before his shoulder injury. JJ has not been touching the same velocity that he had been reaching in seasons past. His average fastball has been around 91-92, instead if the average 93-94 he had been hitting. His fastball is a lot more flat and hittable.

With that said, Josh Johnson, in his first 6 starts was 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA, and opposing batters were hitting .359 off of him. In his last 6 starts, JJ has gone 3-1 with a 2.95 ERA, and a .262 opponents batting average against.

I am not sold that we will ever see the dominant, top starter Josh Johnson that we are accustomed to seeing, but he is still an ace for the Marlins pitching staff and will be the Marlins number one starter if the team makes the post season.

RK: The Marlins offense has really struggled, managing just the 13th best OPS mark in the National League. But the two players that have really stepped up are Giancarlo Stanton, who has raked to a .298/.374/.576 mark with 16 doubles, 13 homers, and 40 RBI, and Hanley Ramirez, who has managed just a .267/.331/.489 mark but with 14 doubles, 11 homers, 37 RBI, and 10 steals. How important have those two been to the Marlins offense this season? Do you think Stanton can keep his thus-far incredible season going?

EK: Giancarlo Stanton is the best player on the Miami Marlins, but it is close. Hanley Ramirez is showing that he still has all the talent that made him one of the game’s elite players just a few years ago. Hanley is locked in right now and has a lot to prove.

Both are extremely important to the Marlins. If one of these guys cools down, the Marlins will be losing a lot of their offense. Besides Hanely, Stanton, Reyes, and Infante, the Marlins have not had any hitter step up on a regular basis and break out. The Marlins offense hinges on these two hitters to keep hitting at the pace they have been hitting since the calendar changed to May.

As for Stanton, if he can play like this the entire season, there is no reason why he should not be the league’s MVP. But I cannot see Stanton continuing to play as well as he has the in the month of May. Pitchers will continue to adjust and find ways to get Stanton out. It will be up to Stanton to adjust to how pitchers pitch to him to keep his strong season alive. I cannot see Stanton at this time hitting above .270-.275, so it will take some adjustments for him to keep his average around where it is.

RK: Jose Reyes has completely lost his power stroke going to Marlins Park, managing just a .356 slugging percentage and .710 OPS. He does have 16 steals, but how worried are you about him? What are your thoughts on the Reyes signing thus far?

It’s funny you asked this question and then Jose Reyes went deep the same night. Reyes started very slow for the Marlins, but has been a huge part of the Marlins turnaround in May. Reyes hit .297/.378/.338 for the month of May. Yes, the fact that he is not getting as many extra base hits is a bit concerning, but it is something that I believe he can reverse shortly and return himself to being the great hitter he has been throughout his career.

The Reyes signing has been worth every dime that we have paid. Reyes has had a major impact on Hanley and his play in 2012, as well as his positive attitude. Both players have fed off of each other and are better players for it. Reyes after a slow start has started to turn things around. Once the Marlins get everyone in their lineup hitting to their capabilities, Reyes will be that much more dangerous on this team. He is a perfect fit on a Ozzie Guillen-led, base path aggressive team.

RK: In the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the Marlins selected Andrew Heaney, an ex-Rays draft pick (2009), and a pitcher I’ve always really liked with his combination of plus stuff right now with some more projection to come. What are your thoughts on the Marlins’ selection of Heaney and are you looking forward to seeing him in your big league rotation sooner rather than later?

At first, I was not a big fan of the pick. Maybe it was the fact that I was still upset that Mark Appel, the consensus number 1 pick in a lot of mock drafts, was taken the pick before the Marlins. I believe that the Marlins would have selected Appel had he fallen to them, and paid him what he wanted.

But the Andrew Heaney pick was a solid, safe pick. Heaney did not have the upside that some of the pitchers that were picked after him had, but he can be a pitcher that could reach the Marlins fairly quickly. I expect Heaney to rise to the big leagues by the 2014 season. The Marlins need some pitching depth as Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez are free agents after this season, and then Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco the season after that.

Andrew Heaney does not project to be an ace type of pitcher, but he does project to be a #2 or #3 starter. With Jose Fernandez already in the Marlins organization, the Marlins did not necessarily need an ace. The hope for the Marlins is that the quatrain of Fernandez, Chad James, Adam Conley, and Heaney will be ready to make an impact as early as the 2014 season.

RK: We haven’t heard anything about Ozzie Guillen since the Fidel Castro incident. Is that a good thing?

That is a great thing for the baseball team. As a writer, he is killing my mojo. I need him to be controversial to have more to write about, but as a fan of the team, I am glad he has decided to quiet down a bit and not voice his opinion too much.

Did you know that Ozzie has only been ejected once this season, and that was during spring training. That is a bit upsetting for me. I want to see Ozzie’s ejection antics.

Everyone at RCG would like to thank Ehsan for answering our questions, and I also answered some question for Ehsan about the Rays here. This should be an exciting Interleague series and hopefully it will be exciting with the Rays coming out on top.