Spring training of 2003 was as ho-hum as any for the Marlins.
Six weeks were spent trying to settle on a fifth outfielder, which turned out to be Gerald Williams. The other 24 roster spots were locked up going in.
It won’t be quite that uneventful this time around for the Marlins, who open camp Friday when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter.
But in terms of finalizing the Opening Day roster, it’ll be close.
Barring injuries along the way, no more than four or five spots are up for grabs, and all involve pitchers, both in the starting rotation and bullpen. All of the 13 spots expected to be taken by position players are spoken for.
The biggest question marks surround the rotation.
Only Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler are sure things.
The other two openings will come from a half-dozen mix of contenders: Jarred Cosart, Edwin Jackson, Adam Conley, Justin Nicolino, David Phelps and Brad Hand.
And if either Jackson or Phelps fail to crack the rotation, they will almost certainly wind up in the bullpen.
“We find out what the rotation looks like,” new Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of his most important roster decisions looming this spring. “What happens with Edwin? Where does he go? Phelps, we’ve got to see which way he goes. I think we have a number of options.”
Cosart and Jackson would appear to be frontrunners for the two rotation openings. But each brings uncertainty. Cosart is coming off a dismal season, while Jackson worked exclusively out of the bullpen last year for the Cubs and Braves. Jackson hasn’t held a rotation spot since going 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA with the Cubs over the course of the 2013 and ’14 seasons.
The Marlins are hoping new pitching guru Jim Benedict can put Jackson back on the right track.
Conley and Nicolino — especially Conley — showed flashes as rookies last season with the Marlins. But they might decide to start them out at Triple A to begin the season and have them available in reserve for an immediate call-up should the need arise.
Phelps and Hand, both of whom could work in long relief out of the bullpen, provide an extra layer of insurance for the rotation.
“The rotation is an issue every team is looking at,” Mattingly said. “Not only the rotation, but the depth of it because you know during the season you’re going to need seven, eight or nine guys [to start], if you’re lucky.”
As for the bullpen, four spots will go to A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps, Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris. Veteran lefty Craig Breslow could earn a roster spot with any kind of decent showing in spring training.
Kyle Barraclough, who was impressive in 25 relief appearances (2.59 ERA while averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings) after joining Miami in the Steve Cishek trade with St. Louis, is another logical contender for a bullpen role.
And Capps could challenge Ramos for the closer’s role.
“That’s one of the things we’ve talked about,” Mattingly said. “A.J. has kind of proven that he can do that. Carter is a guy who profiles like that.”
There are fewer questions surrounding the lineup and bench.
The Marlins are looking at Justin Bour, Dee Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, Martin Prado, Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto for their lineup, with the bench, more than likely, consisting of Ichiro Suzuki, Jeff Mathis, Derek Dietrich, Chris Johnson and Miguel Rojas.