As we have been mentioning all throughout the Miami Marlins key to success series, the Fish need are in need of a few of their promising young players, the players who are team-controlled and have a decent prospect pedigree, to arise as long-term contributors for this team in the years to come. These players are supposed to form a supporting cast around potential superstars Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich.
One of those five players who may be asked to develop is shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who was acquired in the mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Prior to this, we have spoken primarily about pitchers and asked whether those guys could develop into solid second or third starters. Our lone position player discussed, Rob Brantly, is being highly considered because of his offensive potential at a premier defensive position. Hechavarria is in a completely different boat: he is a player in a premium defensive position who is vaunted because of his defense, not in spite of it like in Brantly's case.
Why is Hechavarria a Key to Success?
Hechavarria is a key to success primarily because shortstop, like catcher, is such a difficult position to fill. A quick look at the minors shows that the Fish have a complete lack of up-the-middle infield depth. The team has a number of players, from Austin Barnes to Noah Perio to Derek Dietrich to Avery Romero in a few years, who will likely compete for either second base or third base jobs, depending on the Marlins' needs at the major league level. The only consensus about those players is that none of them are likely to be great options in the majors and none of them can play shortstop adequately, even guys like Dietrich and Romero who came up as shortstops.
With the Fish distinctly lacking in shortstop talent, Hechavarria owns the job on his own. And given his defensive prowess at the position, he seems to be worthy of the role while on the field. All the reports of Hechavarria's defense are stellar. Here is an example by John Sickels of SB Nation's Minor League Ball in 2011:
Hechavarria was considered highly toolsy when signed, especially on defense, and still has that reputation. He has a strong throwing arm, soft hands, impressive range, and projects as an above-average-to-excellent defensive shortstop.
The report has only been confirmed by watching Hechavarria at the position. For example:
In general, Hechavarria is considered smooth in his motions and strong-armed, and those are two characteristics that the Marlins have not had at shortstop in some time, aside from perhaps Jose Reyes last season. With young Marlins pitchers set to start for the team, it cannot hurt to have the best defensive club the team can muster behind those pitchers, and Hechavarria should give them more confidence than Marlins pitchers have had since Alex Gonzalez.
And this defensive package does not come completely without a bat. Unlike most defense-only shortstops, Hechavarria comes packing some power potential. Hechavarria has a swing that can generate some speed through the zone, and he is capable of a Jose Reyes-like six to ten home runs in 500 plate appearances, as he pulled off last season in Triple-A Las Vegas. He at least has the potential to flash some pop and speed at the bottom of the lineup.
Unfortunately for Hechavarria, his potential at the plate has so far translated into just that, potential and no results. His strong 2012 in Triple-A in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League brought his career batting line in the minors to a paltry .271/.314/.381, and those numbers are followed by some ugly peripherals at the plate. Hechavarria has struck out in a modest 16.1 percent of plate appearances, but he has only walked in 5.7 percent of those attempts as well. His plate recognition, even with apparent improvement while in Triple-A, has always been considered poor, as evidenced by Sickels's mentioning in the same scouting report as above.
With the bat, he has a touch of power and good bat speed, but his plate discipline is quite poor and he is frequently overmatched by pitchers who can change speeds.
In the majors, he flashed those exact problems to an extreme, as he whiffed in 23.2 percent of his appearances and walked in just 2.3 percent of them. He swung at 52 percent of the pitches he saw, similar to known undisciplined free-swingers such as Jeff Francoeur and Alexei Ramirez. The only qualifed players last season who swung as often as Hechavarria did and were better than league average hit at least 18 home runs during the season. Since his power is unlikely to reach that level soon (or at all), he is likely to have a hard time reaching the league average or better plateau.
Of the players listed in this project, Hechavarria lies at the greatest extremes, more so than even Nathan Eovaldi. Hechavarria has one amazing skill, and that is his stellar defense, and that skill alone should keep him in the major leagues for a very long time. He only needs to improve to mediocre standards on offense to become a big-league regular and a starter for years to come, but the odds of him developing those offensive skills are still well in question.
What are the odds that Hechavarria becomes the Marlins' useful contributor? Based on the team's history with elite defensive shortstops and Hechavarria's obvious major-league ready skills, I place his chances of becoming one of those important pieces second behind only Jacob Turner. Unlike the other players behind him, there are not many questions about Hechavarria's primary skill, which is already on the high end for big leaguers. The question really concerns whether he can make the next step in his development.