After full MLB season, Yelich, Ozuna could offer Marlins in-house improvements

Young outfielders Christian Yelich (left) and Marcell Ozuna (right) each played their first full MLB season in 2014.

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Few teams significantly improved their roster — at least on paper — this offseason more than the Miami Marlins.

Despite losing ace Jose Fernandez and slugger Giancarlo Stanton to injury by season’s end, the Marlins improved by 15 wins. The front office and coaching staff knew it had a talented, young core. So the Marlins sought out complementary pieces to fill the remaining holes.

After earning call-ups in 2013, guys like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna furthered their development during their first full big-league seasons in 2014.

"I feel like Ozuna and myself have both gotten better throughout the year," Yelich said during the last week of the season. "Just another year of experience in the big leagues, and you can’t replicate that. You have to go through it, go through those ups and downs and the learning process of the league and what it’s like to play every single day at this level. It’s difficult at times. To be able to go through that and ride the highs and lows a little bit and understand there are going to be good times and times when you struggle, too.

"To be able to experience that and take that into the offseason and realize what you’re getting into for the next year is going to be extremely helpful. You can be told all about what your first season’s like in the big leagues and what to expect and how it’s going to be, but until you actually go through it and experience it, nothing can replicate that. That experience is huge."

Watching Yelich and Ozuna in the outfield reminded Stanton, a two-time All-Star, of his first full year in the majors. In 2011, Stanton appeared in a career-high 150 games, hitting .262 with 34 home runs and 87 RBI.

Stanton said he learned to temper the emotional roller-coast ride of a marathon season. He doesn’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low.

"It’s been fun to see Yelly and Oso in a full big-league season," Stanton said toward the end of the season. "Watch and see things that maybe I did my first year and get frustrated at the wrong things, not understand the ups and downs of the year. They both have their little road bumps and push through them. It’s been good to see."

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For Yelich, 2014 required adjustments as early as spring training, when Rafael Furcal got injured. Without a conventional leadoff batter, he slotted into the spot and hit .284 with a .362 on-base percentage in 144 games. He had a brief stint on the disabled list.

Though the 23-year-old doesn’t believe it affected his play, it did show he could deal with anything thrown at him. Manager Mike Redmond, after all, projects him as a three-hole hitter in the future.

Yelich, who saw 4.25 pitches per plate appearance (sixth in majors) in 2014, played in 62 games (61 starts) following his debut on July 23, 2013. Asked whether he was pleased with his performance this year, he called it a "loose term" because "I’m not satisfied with it by any means. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement."

Take this into consideration: Yelich became the National League’s Gold Glover in left field. He experienced the draining nature of a big-league season for the first time.

"He’s done a great job and really stepped up," Redmond said. "At the end of the day those extra at-bats throughout the course of the season are going to pay dividends for us down the road. Learning the pitching in this league, working counts. He’s faced a lot of lefties. There’s so many good things he’s done over the course of the year. It’s been a tremendous year for him not only in his development but our success."

Then there are rookies like Justin Bour, who made his big-league debut on June 5, 2014. The Marlins acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in last winter’s Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

Bour, accustomed to being penciled in the lineup every day over six minor-league seasons between the Cubs and Marlins organizations, learned to come off the bench.

Q&A with hitting coach Frank Menechino

"It was different and awesome all at the same time," Bour said. "When I first got called up at least, it was the first time in my life I had to be on the bench and deal with that when I was used to batting fourth and playing every day. It was a bit different but the experience of the pinch-hitting thing was a learning experience for me and I have under my belt that will help me in the future."

The 26-year-old doesn’t know what his role will be in 2014 after the Marlins signed free agent Michael Morse to a two-year deal. But if his two stints with the club showed him anything, it’s that with regular playing time he can produce at this level.

As a starter in 15 games, Bour hit .352 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBI. In 25 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, he batted .100 (2 for 20) with a double and four RBI.

"I knew if I got the playing time I knew I could play at that level," Bour said. "Given that time and opportunity really. That’s about it."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.