Newcomer spotlight: Jeff Baker hopes he’s found stability in Miami
JUPITER, Fla. — Marlins utility player Jeff Baker has put together quite the uniform collection over the past two years.
A lifetime .267 hitter with 48 home runs and 199 RBI over nine seasons, Baker played for the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers during that span.
In 2013 with Texas, the 32-year-old hit .279 with 11 home runs and 21 RBI in just 175 at-bats. But he missed a month after sustaining a freak thumb injury on an exuberant high-five. He was batting .317 with nine home runs at the time.
Miami signed Baker, who can play the corner outfield positions as well as first, second and third base, to a two-year deal worth $3.7 million last month. He not only bolsters the bench but also provides another veteran presence to the young talent.
Through four spring training games, Baker is 4 for 11 (.364) with two runs and a .417 on-base percentage.
Occasionally, FOX Sports Florida will catch up with new faces in the Marlins clubhouse during spring training. Here’s a closer look at Baker:
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: What sort of role do you envision for yourself this season?
BAKER: I’m basically ready for anything and everything, and I’m comfortable with anything and everything whether it’s just pinch-hitting, double-switching, giving skip an option off the bench late. Whether it’s a platoon to help one guy out or someone gets hurt and you play a little more extended. Any of those I’m all in for. The biggest thing I’ve said in a utility role is that a fun year is a year you win and you get a chance to play well. However that works out, however skip wants to use me, I’m ready. Always be prepared, won’t be surprised by many things.
FSF: You were traded to a few teams the past few years. Is it nice to have that two-year contract?
BAKER: Absolutely. You don’t feel like you’re the mercenary coming in there for one year, but at the same time I was fortunate the teams that did trade for me. I get they’re winning organizations, winning teams that are close to playing in the playoffs. Coming over here for two years and seeing the young talent they have offensively and the pitchers and some of the veterans they have in the clubhouse… I think the mix is pretty dynamic. I don’t think it’s going to take as long as everybody thinks it’s going to take.
FSF: Last year you had a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training. How humbling is that, how much does that force you to work harder?
BAKER: It’s baseball. It’s a business. I knew what happened. When I got traded from Chicago I was playing well. I got traded to Detroit and for the first time in my career I tried to reprove who I was with a new team, new league. I had never been in the American League. It kind of snowballed on me. I understood it. In baseball if you play well you get rewarded. If you don’t play well you’ve got to go out there and earn it. I had no issues. Texas was actually really good. They were very honest and upfront saying, ‘Come to spring training. If you play well you’re going to make the team.’ I took care of my business on the field and we were able to have a good year. It’s a place I really enjoyed.
FSF: You became part of the list of fluke injuries for baseball players. Have you given a high-five since?
BAKER: (laughs) I give fist bumps. Every time I talk about it I really wish I could kill this teammate that was screwing around and jacked up my thumb. It was one of those things that was unfortunate. He was a little excited, a little immature in the situation. Unfortunately I missed a month. It was a lesson learned for him, a lesson learned for me. Wear a body suit in the dugout and be good to go.
FSF: With an injury like that, how much does it affect when you get back to hitting because you probably couldn’t do much?
BAKER: For a month, just because (without) your thumb you can’t swing the bat or do anything. I always like to think that as athletes we think we’re ready sooner than we are. The rehab assignments — we don’t need them. The truth of it is — you can look at the numbers — I just didn’t play well when I came back from the thumb injury. I was in a really good groove before I got hurt, and I was just battling to get that timing back. It’s frustrating because you can’t replicate game speed.
FSF: As a veteran, what’s the best advice you can give these young guys you talked about earlier?
BAKER: The game’s different now. These guys are so much more comfortable in a good way. They’re more comfortable in the clubhouse. I think the older guys as a group invite them in. I think that’s why you see a lot of younger guys when they come up have success right away. When I was coming up in the big leagues, the older guys weren’t exactly too warm and fuzzy. I think it’s one of those things just trying to be there for them every day. It’s not, ‘Do this or do that.’ Just be there, listen to them, talk to them (and) ask how their day’s going. When you’re out on the field you’re going to build that relationship off the field and hopefully they can turn to you.