Dee Gordon was locked into the leadoff spot in the Marlins’ lineup for the better part of the past three seasons.
But with the former National League batting champion, two-time All-Star and three-time stolen bases champion wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform these days, who takes his place on a consistent basis is one of the many questions the Marlins will need to figure out over the next month of spring training.
Gordon, who was traded to the Mariners on Dec. 7 for three prospects, left some big shoes to fill.
A career .296 hitter with a .326 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, Gordon recorded 193 of his 201 hits last season batting first and put together a slash line of .308/.341/.372 with 19 doubles, nine triples and an OPS of .764 in 626 at-bats. Gordon also hit .346 in at-bats to lead off a game last season with a .387 on-base percentage.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly said it’s way too early to make a decision on who will top the lineup on Opening Day.
But he did mention one candidate that already has some experience.
“One guy that we’ve liked in the past is Derek [Dietrich],” Mattingly said. “He’s been a guy who gets on base, has good on-base percentage. But we have so many spots open we don’t know exactly where we’re going and I think that mixture of guys will tell you how you need to balance your lineup. And Derek could be a guy we need to be a run producer instead of a guy we need to get on base.”
Dietrich, a lefty, has hit .276 in the leadoff spot in 105 career at-bats with a .405 on-base percentage with three home runs and 17 walks. Dietrich led off in only six games last season and went 5 of 19 with three walks, six strikeouts, a home run and a double. He’s also frequently reached base by being hit by pitches (72 times in five seasons).
Dietrich, who led off Sunday and homered in the fifth inning against the Mets, is projected to be the starting left fielder after spending most of his first five seasons in the majors as an infielder. Dietrich has played left field in 57 of his 459 major-league games.
“I’ve always had good success getting on base whether it’s getting hit by pitches or walks or hit any way,” Dietrich said. “If you look at it, it’s really only leading off once in the game. I don’t mind seeing pitches, hitting with two strikes so no matter what role it is, I’m willing to take it on.”
J.T. Realmuto, who was measured by Statcast last year as baseball’s fastest catcher covering 28.7 feet per second in a one-second window, has hit .359 with a .390 OBP in 128 career at-bats as a leadoff hitter.
But the Marlins are likely to need his bat further down in the lineup with prolific hitters such as Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich gone.
There’s also Braxton Lee and Magneuris Sierra, each of whom have experience batting first in the minors, but are still competing for a spot on the major-league roster.
Sierra, the Marlins’ No. 7 prospect overall by MLB Pipeline, hit .259 with a .312 OBP, with 20 runs, 16 walks, 38 strikeouts and 27 RBI in the leadoff spot for the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate last season.
Lee, the Marlins’ No. 17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and a left-handed hitter, averaged .307 with a .392 OBP, 75 runs, 62 walks, 97 strikeouts, 20 doubles, three home runs and 35 RBI in 440 at-bats combined while leading off at Double-A Jacksonville and the Rays’ affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama last year.
REMEMBER THE NAME
With so many new faces for the Marlins at spring training this year Mattingly kept forgetting recently to mention Lee among the team’s top outfield prospects.
But that doesn’t mean he’s being overlooked as he battles others like Sierra, Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison for a spot in the outfield this spring.
“I just forget his name a lot,” Mattingly said Sunday. “He’s a lot like Magneuris [Sierra]. Both these guys could play center. Both run very well. Both are similar as far as the short game. [Lee] is a guy that’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s definitely not overlooked. He’s going to get plenty of looks out there.”
Monday: Marlins RHP Jose Ureña vs. Houston Astros RHP Francis Martes, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
Tuesday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily vs. Washington Nationals TBA, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.