Business has been brisk in the “Bone Yard” this spring.
That’s the Marlins’ miniature diamond where infield coach Perry Hill — nicknamed “Bone’’ — has been taking on his latest project, whipping the Marlins’ reconstructed infield into form.
“It’s not a project,” Hill said of the task, shying away from using a description that would imply he’s dealing with a major undertaking. “It’s maybe a tweak here and a tweak there.”
Of the myriad roster moves made during the offseason by the front office, it’s the infield where the changes are most evident. The Marlins will feature three new infielders: first baseman Mike Morse, second baseman Dee Gordon and third baseman Martin Prado.
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Only shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria returns.
On the surface, the transformation appears radical.
But it’s nothing compared with the challenge Hill faced in 2006 when he was dealt four new infielders, three of whom were fresh rookies, and another, Miguel Cabrera, whose experience at third base was limited.
Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Mike Jacobs — all first-year, or lightly seasoned, players, and none known for their deft glove work — rounded out that ’06 infield.
“That,” Hill said, “was a major project.”
This time around, Hill is grooming a cast that all has big-league experience.
The goal for Hill is this: Take the new pieces and mesh them into a cohesive unit that will help the Marlins win games with their fielding — something last year’s infield didn’t do particularly well.
“If you hit the ball two or three steps either way, if we make those plays, that’s all we can ask,” Hill said. “Two steps this way, two steps that way, for any guy out there, if you make those plays, you’re going to win games.”
The Marlins’ infield of 2014 was deficient, especially on the right side.
It was largely defense that led to second baseman Derek Dietrich’s demotion to the minors in midseason, and first baseman Garrett Jones was far from a Gold Glover.
Casey McGehee was steady, though not spectacular, at third base, and Hechavarria was a finalist for the Gold Glove at shortstop even though, based on advanced analytics, he graded a shade below average defensively.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, Hechavarria cost the Marlins one run overall during the course of the season, a fact that grates on Hill, who believes Hech is one of the best in the league fielding his position. The Marlins infield as a whole cost the team 24 runs during the season.
“I just don’t know how you quantify all that,” Hill said of the fielding metrics that don’t reflect glowingly on Hechavarria. “Based on what I saw, he was one of the top three shortstops in the National League. He has things to work on, but everybody else does, too.”
Hechavarria isn’t alone.
Gordon is a transformed shortstop and needs further polish at second.
“He’s played a couple of years in the big leagues, and he knows what he’s got to do,” Hill said. “He’s got some things he has to work on. He knows what they are. And we’ve got to get those addressed in the next six weeks.”
Morse has spent most of his 10 big-league seasons in the outfield, with only 139 career starts at first base, including 39 last season for the Giants.
“For me, my main goal this spring training is to get as good as I can at first base so these guys can trust me, that they know they can make a backhand play and not have to worry about the greatest of throws,” Morse said. “So they can trust me picking the balls, for being there for them.”
Prado has played all over the field during his career. But most of his games have been at third.
“Prado’s a pro, he’s a baseball player,” Hill said.
But they’re all strangers to one another. For now.
“How do you make it mesh?” Hill asked. “We’ve got 30 [spring training] games to do it in.”