The Miami Marlins’ starting center field spot has been a continuous revolving door ever since the Marlins optioned Lewis Brinson to Triple A New Orleans.
Six different players have shared 66 starts in center since Brinson’s demotion on April 30.
There have been utility players (Rosell Herrera and Jon Berti), a career minor-leaguer (Isaac Galloway), a rookie who profiles best as a corner outfielder (Harold Ramirez) and, primarily, a career shortstop (JT Riddle).
Enter Cesar Puello.
The 28-year-old who the Marlins obtained from the Los Angeles Angels on June 19 for cash considerations has started the last four games in center field, seven in that spot overall and 14 total games for the Marlins. He is starting in center again on Friday night for Miami as the Marlins (36-58) begin a three-game road series with the National League-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (64-35).
Marlins manager Don Mattingly hopes that Puello, who has 12 years of professional baseball experience but has played in just 48 career MLB games, can be the needed stopgap in center as they maneuver through the second half of the season.
“We like the true outfielder defense,” Mattingly said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve been able to see. We’ve tried a number of guys in center field, mixing and matching guys, changing positions. It’s basically nice to have a guy out there that’s a true outfielder. He can cover some ground.
“He knows what he’s doing out there.”
The next step for Puello: Producing at the plate.
Albeit with a small sample size, Puello was hitting .390 with three doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI in 41 at-bats when the Marlins acquired him from the Angels. He hit .150 (3 for 20) in his first eight games for the Marlins before starting to turn the corner. Puello is hitting .242 (8 for 33) with a double and three runs scored through 11 games in July.
“We see a guy that’s pretty good about controlling the zone. He’s not way out of the zone swinging. Fairly established game plan. He’s a guy that’s a little more polished for this level.”
This series is a homecoming of sorts for Garrett Cooper. The Marlins’ slugger was born in Manhattan Beach, California — about 25 miles from Dodger Stadium — and went to Loyola High School in Los Angeles.
He comes home at the right time.
Cooper is hitting a team-best .313 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI and 39 runs scored. He is hitting .425 with runners in scoring position, which ranks third in MLB among players with at least 50 plate appearances in that situation.