Miami Marlins

He’s one of the game’s fastest base runners. Could this Marlins rookie become an elite base stealer?

Miami Marlins right fielder Magneuris Sierra bats during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Friday, February 23, 2018, in Jupiter.
Miami Marlins right fielder Magneuris Sierra bats during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Friday, February 23, 2018, in Jupiter. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Even though he’s a month away from his 31st birthday, Cameron Maybin is still one of the faster players in baseball.

But he’s willing to admit he’s not the fastest in Marlins camp this spring.

He’s giving that distinction to Magneuris Sierra.

“I don’t often give somebody that title, but Sierra, he’s the fastest guy in camp,” Maybin said. “That kid can go. Sometimes you have to tip your hat.”

Sierra, a 21-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who the Marlins acquired in the trade with the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna last December, played in 22 games last season for St. Louis.

In that brief amount of time, Sierra impressed many with his speed both on the base paths and while tracking fly balls in the outfield.

Using “sprint speed,” a Statcast metric that tracks how much ground a runner covers in feet per second in every maximum effort run, Sierra was timed at 29.9 feet per second according to Baseball Savant.

The metric tracks every MLB player’s speed on the base paths with a minimum of 10 max effort opportunities. Sierra, the Marlins’ No. 7 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, had fewer than 10 due to his small sample size in the majors. But his speed would have ranked third overall in baseball behind center fielders Byron Buxton (Twins) and Billy Hamilton (Reds), who finished second in the majors in stolen bases with 59.

By comparison, former Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, who led the league in steals with 60, was tracked at 29.7 feet per second. Maybin averaged 27.8 feet per second last season, which ranked 43rd among all MLB centerfielders and still above last year’s league average (27.0).

The Marlins are emphasizing better and more aggressive base running this season in an attempt to offset the loss of 60 percent of its home run production from last year’s lineup.

Sierra could greatly benefit the Marlins in that regard if he were to win a starting spot in the outfield.

Mattingly would like to see Sierra increase his on-base percentage, however, by continuing to work on his approach at the plate and bunting skills, which can lead to base stealing and run scoring chances.

Mattingly said Sierra has been working with player development instructors Juan Pierre and Quentin McCracken this spring on those aspects of his game.

Sierra hit .317 (19 for 60) last year with the Cardinals with a .359 on-base percentage. In the minors, Sierra hit .270 with a .318 OBP in 408 at-bats last year while stealing 20 bases in 30 attempts.

“I think he’ll hit enough, but you have to get on base,” Mattingly said. “Is he going to hit .310 and only .315 on base? You want that guy to be on base a lot so that’s the part where we want him to continue to grow. That’s part of him understanding what he needs to do as a hitter.”

Sierra, who has been hitting primarily in the leadoff spot this spring and gone 5 for 15 with a double, did not have an extra-base hit in 64 plate appearances last season.

It’s another facet of his hitting he hopes to improve quickly.

“In the offseason, I worked hard to earn a spot in the majors and I’m really seeing the results now in terms of running the bases, putting the ball in play and driving the ball into the gaps,” Sierra said.

The Marlins may elect to develop Sierra, who jumped to the majors straight from Single-A, more in the minors if they feel he needs to work on his skills at the plate and improving his ability to get on base consistently.

“He’s got a great attitude,” Mattingly said. “His game is a little rough, but he’s working to make sure the bunt is part of his game because then we drag infielders in and we create more holes. He’s a kid that can run and he has a cannon in the outfield, played all three spots in the big leagues, so he’s very versatile in that sense. To me, he’s a kid with a tremendous upside.”

COMING UP

Monday: Marlins RHP Elieser Hernandez vs. Houston Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.

Tuesday: Marlins RHP Brett Graves vs. St. Louis Cardinals TBA, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

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