The trade that brought Derek Dietrich to the Marlins might have cost the infielder thousands of dollars.
Not in salary.
In potential prize winnings.
Dietrich, an amateur juggler when he’s not working his way up the minor-league baseball ladder, had his sights set on winning the Tampa Bay Ray’s annual talent competition that’s held during spring training.
Now, after being traded to the Marlins in December for shortstop Yunel Escobar, he will have to settle on putting on unpaid private shows for his teammates while trying to impress Marlins management with his baseball skills.
“I’ll probably pull out my juggling props here pretty soon,” said Dietrich, who put on a brief demonstration in the Marlins’ dugout before batting practice Wednesday, juggling five baseballs at once.
The Marlins believe the 23-year-old product of Georgia Tech could be in their infield, either as a third baseman or second baseman, within the next year or two. Dietrich is expected to start the season at Double A Jacksonville.
Better known for his bat than his glove, Dietrich is working extensively with infield coach Perry Hill on his defense.
“I like him,” Hill said. “He can hit. I hope I don’t screw the kid up.”
Dietrich, who was chosen by the Rays in the second round of the 2010 draft, has hit .278 with 39 homers in three minor-league seasons. He’s scheduled to start at third base in Thursday’s “B” game against the Cardinals, though he has spent most of his time working out at second this spring.
“Bone [Hill’s nickname] has been unbelievable,” Dietrich said. “They told me early on he was a defensive genius, and I agree with that 100 percent. I could see that from Day One. It was like immediate improvement. I’ve already become a better infielder because of him.”
Juggling has also proved beneficial to Dietrich on the baseball field.
“Obviously, hand-eye coordination is huge in this game, offensively and defensively,” Dietrich said. “Juggling is defined as having more objects in the air than you have hands to control them. You don’t have that happen in baseball, but the peripheral vision — the reaction — just knowing where the ball is going to be without my eyes seeing it, that’s where it helps.”
Dietrich said he started juggling when he was 8 years old and stuck with it.
By the time he was in high school, he was a member of the International Jugglers Association and performed at charity events and nursing homes. His bag of props, which he brought with him to spring training, includes balls, clubs, machetes and torches.
Dietrich not only played in the 2011 Midwest League All-Star Game, he also performed his juggling routine for the crowd of 10,000 during a break in play as part of a gag.
“My manager said, ‘I’m going to make this pitching change, but instead of calling the pitcher, I’m going to call you out of the dugout and you’re going to come on the field and juggle,’ ” Dietrich said. “The fans didn’t know if I was a performer dressed up as a baseball player, and they had to clarify over the public address system that I was actually a player from the Rays’ organization.”
Dietrich can’t wait to perform for his Marlins teammates.
“Everybody’s got a batting average — good or bad,” Dietrich said. “But not too many guys can juggle.”