JUPITER Derek Dietrich isn’t looking back.
The 24-year-old second baseman — whose first big-league stint with the Marlins couldn’t have started any better or ended any uglier because of an altercation with former hitting coach Tino Martinez — is out to win a job with the big-league team this spring.
So ask him about his injuries, his struggles at the plate which sent him back to the minors, or how his teammates are treating him after his complaint against Martinez for allegedly choking him led to the former All-Star’s resignation and Dietrich spins everything forward.
“That’s old news. I don’t think anyone has even brought anything up. That’s in the past,” said Dietrich, who comes into camp not among the favorites to win a starting job after the Marlins went out and spent money to sign veteran second baseman Rafael Furcal and Casey McGehee and Jeff Baker at third.
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“I love the clubhouse we have,” he said. “We’re looser this year. [Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] is doing a great job leading the guys and keeping it loose. He’s a World Series winner.
“You watch these guys go about their business and how they interact with their other teammates, staff, trainers and you can learn something from all these guys. I’m just trying to take it all in, learn as I go. I can’t wait to get to the park every day and learn and get better.”
Dietrich’s first few days with the Marlins were dreamy.
Called up on May 8, he singled in his first at-bat against the Padres. The next night in Los Angeles, he slugged a three-run homer in a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Dodgers. By his fourth game against the Reds, he was hitting third in the lineup.
It all unraveled rather quickly though.
The altercation with Martinez in the batting cages — a week into Dietrich’s call-up — reportedly happened because Dietrich and a couple of other players didn’t want to pick up balls. Martinez said he never choked Dietrich, rather he grabbed him by his jersey and yelled at him. The two were incident-free the rest of the time Dietrich was with the Marlins, Martinez claimed.
Ultimately, it was Dietrich’s struggles at the plate that landed him back in the minors. Although he slugged nine home runs and delivered some big run-producing hits, he struck out 56 times and hit just .214 in 57 games.
He finished the season hitting .271 with 11 homers and 38 RBI in Double A Jacksonville before injuring his oblique when the Marlins intended to call him back up in September.
“Last year I did some things well with the bat,” Dietrich said. “This game is just about consistency. You get consistent when you have the opportunities and the experience as a player. As a young player, I was happy to be able to have that opportunity to start the games I started and get the at-bats I did. Coming into this season, getting some time, some at-bats, some opportunities, my consistency will get better and better just like it does with all players.
“The more you play, the better you get. That’s the whole goal.”
Manager Mike Redmond said Dietrich “surprised a lot of us with his defense at second base” last season. A former college shortstop at Georgia Tech taken in the second round by the Rays in 2010, Dietrich will once again see playing time this spring at second and third base.
Where is his future best suited?
“Any time you take a guy that came up as a shortstop and you start moving him to second or third, you’re not sure how that’s going to go,” Redmond said. “We saw that second base was a fairly easy transition for him. It’s like anything, if you hit you force us to find a spot for you. That’s the bottom line.”
Dietrich’s power is ultimately what could make him a valuable asset. Based on whose back from last year’s team, only Giancarlo Stanton had more home runs last season than Dietrich.
Asked about the pop in his bat and how rare that is for a second baseman, Dietrich could only come up with two other names: Chase Utley and Robinson Cano.
“To be able to drive the ball at that position, second base, shortstop, that’s just an added plus,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always been able to do. So, I think that definitely benefits me.
“But you got to play good defensively. I definitely surprised myself [last year] but I knew I had it in there. With [infield coach Perry Hill’s] help I’m just going to get better and better. It’s exciting. My confidence is high and I’m really looking forward getting all the chances I can to help this team.”