Miami Marlins: Breaking Down the Potential 2013 Infield
When the 2013 season begins next spring, Miami Marlins infielders should wear the following name tag: Hi, my name is ________________________.
The Marlins waved goodbye to All-Star shortstop-turned-third baseman Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante and first baseman Gaby Sanchez in three separate deals at last season's July trade deadline.
Then last month, the Marlins said adiós to shortstop Jose Reyes and catcher John Buck in the 12-player blockbuster fire sale with the Toronto Blue Jays.
What those trades signified is no matter what the Marlins do from now until Opening Day, there will be new faces at every infield position.
Although the situation is fluid, the players the club has chosen aren't a bunch of faceless nobodies.
You might recognize some of the infielders because of a position switch, others who came up through the Marlins' (or another franchise's) farm system, as well as a couple of known quantities trying to latch on for one more shot at glory or to re-establish their value.
And now that baseball's winter meetings have ended, here's our best guess at what the 2013 Marlins infield could look like.
Catcher: The Young and the Old
If the season began today, it's highly likely Rob Brantly will be the Marlins starting catcher.
A 2010 third-round draft pick, Brantly landed in Miami with right-hander Jacob Turner in the five-player trade that saw the Marlins send Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers last July.
Shortly after arriving to the organization, Brantly batted .365 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 52 at-bats in Triple-A New Orleans.
The Marlins promoted Brantly to the big-league club three weeks after the trade and he continued to produce offensively, hitting .290 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 100 at-bats. Brantly also posted an .832 OPS (.372 on-base percentage with a .460 slugging percentage) during this stretch.
Because of the Marlins' desire to give some young players a chance as well as Brantly's offensive prowess, the 23 year old backstop started 28 of the club's final 46 games.
This seemed like a good idea, especially since Buck was in a season-long slump. Buck finished 2012 below the Mendoza line, hitting .192 with 12 home runs and 41 runs batted in.
Brantly's strength is swinging the lumber, as he's a .280 hitter with 16 home runs and 124 RBIs in 262 minor league games. What Brantly could improve is his defense.
Brantly had six passed balls and threw out just 18 percent of would-be base stealers (4-of-22), below last season's league average of 27 percent. By comparison, Buck has never had more than seven passed balls in a season and threw out 27 percent of would-be base stealers last year.
Speaking of Buck, the Marlins traded his $6 million salary for Jeff Mathis' more economical $1.5 million deal. Mathis, 30, should strictly be the veteran backup catcher as he's never hit higher than .218 or garner enough production to warrant more than 300 at-bats in a given season.
If an injury occurs, or Brantly or Mathis proves to be wildly ineffective, the Marlins could turn to former first-round pick, Kyle Skipworth, as he's the club's only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
The sixth overall selection from the 2008 draft has shown the ability to hit for power, but has spent the past two seasons in Double-A Jacksonville because of his inability to hit for average (.212 average, 32 home runs, 112 RBIs in 2011-12).
First Base: LoMo's New Home
Of the projected 2013 Marlins starting infielders, Logan Morrison is the only one who was with the team at the beginning of last season.
But that was as a left fielder.
Now, Morrison will play first base—if healthy. Morrison had right knee surgery (patella tendon) for the second time in less than a year in September and he's expected to be ready come Spring Training.
On the bright side, Morrison should be an upgrade from last year's tag team of Gaby Sanchez and Carlos Lee.
Sanchez, Lee and others (including Morrison, who played 21 games at first base before his season was cut short in late July), collectively hit .229 with 10 home runs and 81 runs batted in at a premium offensive position.
However, Morrison has been on a slide since his rookie season. After hitting .283 in 2010, Morrison batted .247 with 23 home runs and 72 RBIs in 2011 before slumping to .230 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs last season.
According to an August blog entry from the Palm Beach Post, Morrison said he's had health issues since April 2011, which might explain the drop in production.
If Morrison isn't ready to go by Opening Day, the Marlins can turn in a couple of different directions.
For starters, infielder Greg Dobbs is available to fill in until Morrison returns.
Known mostly for his bat off the bench, Dobbs (.279 batting average with 13 home runs, 88 RBIs in 730 at-bats in two seasons) has limited experience playing first base, appearing in a career-high 18 games there last season and 54 in his nine-year career.
The Marlins can also summon Joe Mahoney, a 25 year old waiver wire pickup from Baltimore last week. In six minor league seasons, Mahoney hit .274 with 63 home runs and 366 RBIs.
Or, the team could sign a free agent who has experience playing a couple of infield positions, including first base. Multiple sources confirmed the Marlins are interested in Mark Reynolds.
Last season, Reynolds played a career-high 108 games at first base for Baltimore, hitting .221 with 23 home runs and 69 RBIs.
Second Base: What Can Solano Do with a Full Season?
Donovan Solano should remember Aug. 4, 2012.
That was the date Solano was handed the second base job, and he kept it for the rest of the 2012 season. Heading into 2013, Solano should be penciled in as the Marlins second baseman for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to trades (Infante to Detroit and Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers) and injuries (Emilio Bonifacio re-injuring his surgically repaired left thumb the day before), Solano was pressed into a starting role after spending the previous three months on the bench as a utility player making spot starts. Solano started 53 of the Marlins' final 55 games—all at second base—and batted .300 with two home runs and 22 RBIs.
Defensively, Solano has average range, but is sure-handed as he committed just two errors at second base last year.
However, up until last year, Solano had spent his entire career in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system. In eight minor league seasons, Solano, who will turn 25 years old in about two weeks, hit .260 with 10 home runs.
Who is the real Donovan Solano? Is it the player who toiled in the minor leagues after signing as an amateur free agent from Colombia at the age of 17, or is it the player former manager Ozzie Guillen thought deserved a spot on the roster in Spring Training but was eventually sent to Triple-A New Orleans to begin the 2012 season?
Whatever the answer might be, Solano will be an asset as he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2016 and free agency until 2019.
As for depth, the Marlins have reportedly shown interest in the versatile Ryan Raburn, formerly of the Detroit Tigers, and utility man Mark DeRosa. Placido Polanco, who has been with the Philadelphia Phillies the past three years, is also an option, but he's 36 and is a health risk.
Third Base: Plenty of Candidates at the Hot Corner
Miguel Cabrera is irreplaceable.
But for the Marlins, the search for a fixture at third base continues.
After dealing Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers after the 2007 season, the Marlins have only had one player play more than 120 games at the hot corner, and that was Jorge Cantu in 2008, who hit .277 with a career-high 29 home runs and 95 RBIs.
This year, it seems the Marlins would be hard-pressed to find a third baseman who could match Cantu's 2008, let alone what Cabrera provided to the franchise with his bat despite the subpar defense.
In fact, after the Marlins traded Yunel Escobar, who came over from Toronto in the 12-team blockbuster fire sale last month, to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor leaguer Derek Dietrich on Tuesday, the hole at third base might be as big as ever.
If the season started today, Dobbs might be the starter by default. Defensively, the idea of Dobbs at third base is disastrous, at best.
Advance metrics show Dobbs lacks range and in two of the past three years, his fielding percentage is under .900, which is horrendous considering the league average at third base is usually around .950.
Besides Dobbs, the Marlins could go to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training last month, or Zack Cox, a first round pick from the 2010 draft whom the Marlins traded for in July for reliever Edward Mujica.
The Marlins can also go the free agent route. Thus far, they have been linked to players such as DeRosa, Raburn, Reynolds, Jack Hannahan, Brandon Inge, Placido Polanco and Ian Stewart.
Whoever is on the roster come Spring Training, this much is for certain.
"It's going to be an open, spirited competition (at third base)," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest told the Palm Beach Post after the Escobar trade.
Shortstop: A Defensive Whiz Without a Bat
When the Marlins agreed to the 12-player blockbuster fire sale with the Toronto Blue Jays last month, the hope was, in due time, center fielder Jake Marisnick and left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino would be the centerpieces the Marlins could build around.
But in 2013, the player the Marlins might receive the most production from in the trade will probably be 23-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
The Cuban defector signed a four-year, $6 million contract as an amateur free agent with the Blue Jays in April 2010. He spent nearly three years in the minors before being called up to the big league club in August.
Primarily a shortstop in the minors—all but eight of Hechavarria's 340 games were at that position—he was a utility infielder in Toronto. But when Hechavarria was traded to Miami along with fellow shortstop Yunel Escobar, the Marlins decided to name Hechavarria as the team's shortstop for the 2013 season.
Escobar was traded to Tampa Bay for minor league infielder Derek Dietrich on Tuesday.
According to Grantland.com's Jonah Keri, he characterized Hechavarria as "an excellent glove man...and will be lucky to hit like Rey Ordonez."
During his two-month stint with the Blue Jays, Hechavarria hit .254 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 126 at-bats. Furthermore, he drew just four walks and had a pedestrian .280 on-base percentage. In the minors, Hechavarria wasn't much different as he batted .272 with 18 home runs and 161 RBIs. His on-base percentage was .314.
As of this moment, the Marlins doesn't have a backup for Hechavarria. However, if the Marlins sign Raburn or DeRosa, players whom the club have reportedly expressed interest in, they can shift Solano to shortstop and plug Raburn or DeRosa at second base to give Hechavarria an occasional day off.