Notes: Three candidates for center job

Notes: Three candidates for center job

JUPITER, Fla. -- Settling center field is one of the top priorities of Spring Training. Right now, the Marlins are eyeing three primary candidates to win the job.

Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed and Alex Sanchez are getting the longest looks for the starting job. Cody Ross and Joe Borchard are in the mix, but both seem to be viewed as versatile backups who can play all three outfield spots.

Abercrombie started Tuesday's exhibition against the University of Miami. But manager Fredi Gonzalez says don't read too much into that making Abercrombie the frontrunner.

"Reggie started today because he was there the longest," Gonzalez said. "That was my flip of the coin, or whatever you want to call it. He was up here a full year, that's the only reason he got up there. He has no edge over the other two guys."

Abercrombie spent the entire 2006 season with the Marlins, appearing in 111 games and batting .212 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. He has tremendous athletic ability and is capable of monstrous home runs. However, he has yet to show the plate discipline or instincts in the field to become an everyday player.

Reed is an excellent defensive player who has tremendous speed. But at the plate, he hit .098 (4-for-41) in 42 games a year ago. He spent the majority of the season in Triple-A, batting .303 in 390 at-bats with 20 stolen bases.

Sanchez, a non-roster invitee, is striving to get back into the big leagues. He appeared in 58 Minor League games a year ago, and was last in the Major Leagues with the Giants in 2005.

"I think it's everybody's job to win," Gonzalez said. "I don't think it's anybody to lose it. Everybody is equal in my eyes. I spoke to each of them about it. The plate is clean with Reed and Reggie in my eyes. I haven't seen Sanchez in two years."

Gonzalez says the center field battle could last all the way until Opening Day on April 2 at Washington.

"It could," he said. "That may go down to the wire. I think center field may go down to the wire more than the bullpen."

Closer and setup roles are also up for grabs. Gonzalez has said he would like to establish a closer roughly 10 days before the season begins.

Kevin Gregg is the frontrunner to close. But he will be challenged by Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens.

Cabrera-Hermida go deep: Miguel Cabrera and Jeremy Hermida both showcased their power in Tuesday's exhibition against the University of Miami.

Cabrera homered to left field in the third inning, and Hermida added a solo shot in the fourth.

Cabrera didn't think the ball was gone, claiming there was "a lot of wind."

Used as the designated hitter, Cabrera is focusing on being ready for Opening Day.

"I talked to Fredi Gonzalez and he asked me how many at-bats I wanted, and I said as many as I need," Cabrera said. "I want to be ready for the season. I don't want to start slow. I want to be ready."

Cabrera had 86 at-bats playing winter ball in Venezuela.

"That helped me a lot to play in Venezuela," Cabrera said. "So I don't have any excuses to say my bat is slow or I don't feel good right now. I can say, 'I feel good right now.'"

Hermida is trying to get his timing down. He homered in his second plate appearance. He was hit by a pitch the first time up.

"I could have waited a little longer for that one," said Hermida, who was plunked on the back by an offspeed pitch.

Volstad, Hernandez perform: Two of the top pitching prospects turned in scoreless outings on Tuesday.

Volstad, who started, worked 1 2/3 innings, giving up two hits while striking out two. Hernandez needed seven pitches to work through a perfect fourth inning.

Both right-handers are South Florida products. Volstad, from nearby Palm Beach Gardens, left about 15 tickets for family and friends. Hernandez, from Miami, had his father, Gabriel, and a couple of friends on hand.

Volstad is expected to open the season at Class A Jupiter, while Hernandez is likely headed to Double-A Carolina.

Opportunity for Owens: Owens is being given every chance to win a job in the back end of the bullpen. A closer candidate, Owens is a hard-throwing right-hander who came to the Marlins from the Mets in a trade last November.

A Miami native, Owens is a converted catcher whose fastball ranges in the high 90s. He said while throwing winter ball in Puerto Rico he was clocked at 100 mph.

"Obviously, I'm one of the new guys," Owens said. "Nobody here knows me that well. So every single time you go out, you've got to do your thing and show them what you're all about."

Owens attended his first big-league game when he was 14, the Marlins' inaugural 1993 season. What stood out was watching knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough.

"I still remember Charlie Hough throwing those knuckleballs," Owens said. "Those were so cool. Every pitching coach I have, I say, 'How about teaching me a knuckleball?' They just start laughing."

In his first spring outing, Owens struck out the side in order in the eighth inning.

Fish bites: Owens and Lindstrom each were overpowering in their respective innings against the University of Miami on Tuesday. Owens' fastball topped out at 94 mph, while Lindstrom was clocked as high as 98 mph. ... Anibal Sanchez turned 23 on Tuesday. ... The only tickets remaining for the March 16 game against the Mets, which starts at 7:05 p.m. ET, are standing room only.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.