Young Marlins learning to adjust in second major-league season
MIAMI — Eleven players made their major-league debuts for the Marlins during a 100-loss season in 2013.
A rebuilding year proved to be the perfect time for future everyday players like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna to acquaint themselves with baseball’s highest level of play.
"You never know how long the learning process is going to take in the big leagues," manager Mike Redmond said. "I do know for everyone the second year is a more comfortable situation just knowing what to expect. I think that’s why this offseason we talked a lot about our guys being so much better off for us bringing them into the big leagues last year and getting the chance to experience it and learn and gain that confidence. They come in this year with the chance to make the team and to help us win ballgames."
Five of those 11 are currently on the 25-man roster: Yelich, Ozuna, ace Jose Fernandez, second baseman Derek Dietrich and right-handed reliever Arquimedes Caminero.
Miami entered the season with the third-youngest active roster with an average age of 27 years and 262 days. The pitching staff (26.149) as well as the rotation (24.027) were also the youngest.
What Yelich learned most upon his call-up is how crucial adjustments are to the game. Miami will play National League East opponents 19 times. And those games can come in spurts — like facing the Washington Nationals six times in the span of a week.
"You don’t prepare any different. I think the only difference is that you know a little bit about the big leagues and some of the other teams. They know some stuff about you too," said Yelich, who is currently riding a career-high 11-game hitting streak. "It’s a game of adjustments. They adjust to you. You’ve got to adjust back. I think if you can do that you should be alright."
Redmond called baseball a game where only the "mentally strong survive."
Take Garrett Jones, one of the veteran players signed over the offseason, for example.
Jones went up-and-down with the Minnesota Twins in 2007, hitting .208 with two home runs and five RBI in 31 games. He spent all of 2008 in Triple-A before clearing waivers.
At that time, Jones learned the importance of consistency and putting together quality at-bats. He struggled to do so, oftentimes going through a good stretch of games before a rough patch.
The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed him, which did wonders for his career. Over parts of five seasons, the 32-year-old batted .254 with 100 homers and 325 RBI in 677 games. The Marlins signed him in December because of his consistency.
"The second time I got up I wasn’t going to take anything for granted," Jones said. "I was really going to enjoy my time, work hard and just play the game and have fun. I put a little extra pressure on myself the first time and I didn’t perform as well as I could and should have.
"The second time I just really enjoyed it, went out and had fun, played hard because I knew that I could possibly go down and never come back up. I just made sure I had fun and went out there and let it all go."
Though 2014 marks right-hander Tom Koehler’s third season, it will be his second full slate of games in the major leagues.
In 2012 as a September call-up, he posted a 0-1 record and 5.40 ERA. The team, already well out of the playoff race, lost seven of the eight games he appeared in. All but one were relief appearances.
Last year, his first six outings came out of the bullpen until right-hander Kevin Slowey landed on the disabled list. Koehler took over Slowey’s rotation spot and dropped his first five decisions.
"It’s tough because you know you’re only a few games — unless you have a guaranteed contract — from not getting an opportunity to pitch here anymore," Koehler said. "What the coaching staff and the veterans helped me understand is that everybody’s going to have those bad games, so it’s about trying to make those bad ones not that bad.
"If you’re going to have a bad one, at least keep the team in a position to win and next time you go out there it’s a new start. Don’t be thinking about the 100th pitch you threw five days ago when you’re starting that new game."
Over his first four months as a starter, his ERA was 4.03 or higher, but in September he found a groove with a 3.14 ERA. He finished 2013 with a 5-10 record and 4.41 ERA in 29 games (23 starts).
Koehler, the elder statesman of the rotation at 27 years old, earned the fifth spot in spring training. He has been Miami’s most consistent starter so far in 2014 with a 2-1 record and a 1.89 ERA.
"I think the mental part is the hardest part of it all," said Koehler, who has three quality starts this season. "The guys here don’t necessarily have more talent, they’re just consistent with their talent. The reason why they’re so good is they can go out there on a daily basis and when they’re struggling still be successful.
"Anybody can go out there when they’re feeling great and throw a great game. That’s easy. When you know from the first pitch in the bullpen that it’s going to be a tough one and you can still keep the team in a position to win, that’s what the great ones do."
Through the season’s first 16 games, Ozuna leads the team with a .339 average, while Yelich is second at .317. Dietrich is second on the team with three homers.
Adeiny Hechavarria, who is in his second full big-league season, ranks fourth with a .306 average. He has already shown more with his bat in 2014 than all of 2013. Fernandez lowered his ERA to 2.66 with his start on Wednesday night.
Pair their potential with the possibility of developing together as major leaguers and the organization has the promise of what’s to come.
"Everyone here’s trying to get better. That’s what you want," Yelich said. "We’ve got a good group of young guys, and we’ve got some veteran guys sprinkled in. Younger guys can go to them if they have any questions or need help with anything. It’s a good environment to be in."