The Marlins are entering the season with a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a shortstop that is getting close to earning one of his own.
And their third baseman, Martin Prado, probably deserves some serious consideration as well.
“Why [Prado] wasn’t a Gold Glove finalist [at third base] last year still boggles my mind,” Marlins infield coach Perry Hill said.
Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said he believed Prado would be an upgrade at the position upon acquiring the 32-year-old Venezuelan veteran in a trade with the New York Yankees before the 2015 season.
Prado has made Hill look good on his assessment both on and off the field.
Prado finished with the best fielding percentage (.976) of any National League third baseman who played 1,000 or more innings last season — a mark matched only by the Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria.
Prado committed seven errors last season in 129 games played, which was tied for the fewest with Yunel Escobar among the same such group of third baseman.
His defensive-runs-saved rating of plus-9 ranked third in the NL among third baseman who played in 100 games or more behind only the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Giants’ Matt Duffy, who along with Todd Frazier were the three finalists for the Gold Glove last year at the position.
Already a consistent defensive player, Prado improved last year under Hill’s tutelage, raising his career fielding percentage from .965 to .968.
“I was all over the place defensively when I came here,” Prado said. “Hill made me such a good defensive guy, and I keep getting better by just continuing to ask him. He knows so much about drills and what you can do to get better defensively.”
Prado, a career .291 hitter and an All-Star in 2010 with Atlanta, enters the final season of a four-year, $40 million deal he originally signed in 2013 while with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A veteran on an otherwise younger starting group around the diamond of Gordon (27), Hechavarria (26), first baseman Justin Bour (27) and catcher J.T. Realmuto (25), Prado has proven his worth to the Marlins as a member of one of baseball’s best defensive infields.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez once said he believed Prado’s presence and leadership makes players around him that much better, including elite-caliber talent.
This season, Prado’s bat could play a major role as well.
Prado hit .288 in 2015 with nine home runs and 63 RBI — his fourth-best single-season total in his 10-year career. Prado missed 25 games with a shoulder sprain before the All-Star break. His numbers improved upon his return, hitting .305 with five home runs and 39 RBI during the second half.
The Marlins are planning to have Prado hit either fifth or sixth in the lineup, a spot that could be interchangeable with Bour depending on matchups against right-handed or left-handed pitching.
Prado had 53 at-bats last season in the fifth spot but only hit .189 with three RBI. His numbers were much better when he hit third (.338 in 139 at-bats), fourth (.328 in 58 at-bats) or even second (.267 in 247 at-bats) in the lineup.
Known for his generosity when it comes to mentoring or helping out younger players on the teams he has been on, Prado has traditionally treated several of the younger players including minor-leaguers to a nice dinner at least once during a season as he did again this spring.
Chipper Jones said Prado was one of his favorite teammates ever during his speech on the day the Braves retired his jersey.
“I just don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Hill said. “He’s a pro in every sense of the word. What he does off the field speaks volumes of the kind of guy he is.”
THAT’S A WRAP
The Marlins wrapped up their exhibition slate Saturday with a 2-1 win over the Yankees at Marlins Park. Dustin McGowan started the game in which the Marlins only pitched relievers and went 1 2/3 innings, only giving up a leadoff home run to Jacoby Ellsbury.
Giancarlo Stanton pushed home both of the Marlins’ runs, the first with a deep sacrifice fly ball to left center that Brett Gardner kept from being a double with a leaping catch, and the second on a sharp-hit single up the middle that brought home Marcell Ozuna.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. Tigers RHP Justin Verlander, 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.