Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations, said he would “put our position player talent against anybody in the National League.”
That’s not the type of comment one would expect to hear from an executive with a franchise that finished 29th in runs scored last season (ahead of only Atlanta) and added only one bat (journeyman backup Chris Johnson).
So why the optimism?
“We’re going to have our right fielder for more than 74 games,” Hill said of Giancarlo Stanton. “Christian Yelich was hurt early in the season [and was limited to 126 games]. That changes the complexion of your lineup almost automatically.”
Hill also expects growth from catcher J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Justin Bour and far more from center fielder Marcell Ozuna. But on the flip side, can the Marlins expect another .333 season from second baseman Dee Gordon, who hit 40 points above his career average?
Among the reasons the Marlins believe they will be better offensively:
▪ A lot more is expected from their outfield.
Stanton has missed 190 games over the past four seasons, including 88 last year with a hand injury. When he sustained the injury in late June, he had 27 homers and 67 RBI in 74 games. Over 162 games, that would have projected to 59 and 147.
With Yelich, the key is avoiding another slow start; he was hitting .178 on May 22 last season. Yelich hit .342 after the All-Star break (sixth-best in baseball among qualifiers) and finished at .300 after batting .288 and .284 his first two seasons.
“I think [.300] meant more because of where I started that year at,” he said.
In his career, Yelich has hit decently in April (.265), poorly in May (.223) and very well the next four months (.285, .298, .312, .320).
“You could just tell there was something off [early last season],” he said. “I wasn’t swinging at good pitches.”
Manager Don Mattingly said Yelich “profiles as a No. 3 guy [in the lineup].”
Juan Pierre said: “This kid’s legit. I love his swing.”
The biggest variable is Ozuna, who is in excellent shape. The Marlins thought his poor conditioning affected his 2015 performance, which led to a 5 1/2-week demotion to Triple A.
“I worked all offseason and ran a lot,” he said. “I did this [losing 20 pounds] for myself. I’ll have the same power.”
Ozuna hit .278 with six homers and 18 RBI in 162 at-bats after returning from his stint in the minors, compared with .249, 4 and 26 in 297 at-bats before being sent down. That was an encouraging sign that he might revert to his 2014 form (.269, 23 homers, 85 RBI).
“We think he’s got a lot more in the tank,” Mattingly said. “I think we’ll get that.”
▪ The Marlins believe Bour’s breakout season (23 homers, 73 RBI in 129 games) wasn’t a fluke and consider Johnson (a career .314 hitter against left-handers) the ideal “right-handed complement,” Hill said.
Bour hit .221 with zero homers in 68 at-bats against left-handers but “we still think he can hit lefties,” Mattingly said.
▪ Realmuto led all big-league catchers in triples (seven), hit .333 in September, and Hill said “the sky is the limit for J.T.” offensively.
▪ The Marlins expect similar production, if not more, from third baseman Martin Prado (.288, 9 home runs, 63 RBI) and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.281, 5, 48).
▪ Marlins Park is more hitter-friendly, with the walls having been moved in 11 feet in center-to-right-center and lowered by three feet.
▪ The Marlins believe new hitting coach Barry Bonds will make a tangible difference. Dexter Fowler, who boosted his batting average by 13 points after his first of two offseasons working with Bonds, told The New York Post that Bonds is “the best in the business. The Marlins made a great hire.”
Bour said Bonds initially has been observing the team’s hitters and “like all good hitting coaches, he’s not going to change things right away.”