The Miami Marlins acquired Adeiny Hechavarria from the Toronto Blue Jays in the mammoth fire sale trade, and he was one of the important cogs of the deal. He was important because he was a shortstop, and with the trade of Jose Reyes, he is the Marlins' only shortstop. If you look down the depth chart, the players who are filling shortstop in the minor leagues should be doing so for the rest of their careers, because none are major league capable. For the Marlins, Hechavarria is a key to success.
"I think ultimately, he can be a top-of-the-order guy," manager Mike Redmond said. "He can hit second. He can run. He's a guy, as he continues to progress, for me, he can be a perfect two-hole hitter."
Given the current state of his bat, this seems highly counter-intuitive. For a second, let us consider what a "perfect two-hole hitter" is in the mind of Mike Redmond. A two-hole hitter is supposed to be a player who makes contact and puts the ball in play often in order to move runners over. There does not seem to be too much more of a need for these type of hitters, as examples such as Placido Polanco do only that at the plate. Because so little is expected of them, they usually end up being on the lower end of hitting talent on the team.
Of course, the very thing that "perfect two-hole hitters" are supposed to be is exactly what Hechavarria struggles with. His primary problem is plate discipline, and that plays a major role in making contact with the ball. Last season, in 137 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, Hechavarria made contact on just 81 percent of pitches, which is close to the league average. The problem is that he swung at 52.3 percent of pitches, and particularly 38 percent of pitches out of the zone.
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.
Here is how Hechavarria has improved in Sickels's eyes, however, based on his most recent evaluation of him.
Hechavarria's glove will keep him in the majors, but will he hit enough to become an all-around contributor? I don't anticipate it in the short run, but I think his bat might turn out better than we have any objective right to currently expect. I've seen him have at-bats where he shows some feel for the strike zone, and at-bats where he shows surprising pop. I've also seen him look very helpless, but the skills to be a decent hitter are in there somewhere, and perhaps his glove will keep him employed long enough for those skills to come out more frequently at some point.
Essentially, we have a player who has potential, but has a long way to go. Sickels is optimistic that he can develop some semblance of plate discipline, but we are talking about a player who regularly struggled in the minors and walked closer to five percent of the time during his prospect days. If he is ever to become more than a bottom-of-the-order hitter, he will need to develop some patience and stay away from swinging out of the zone.
And that is exactly what the Fish have emphasized with Hechavarria batting in the eighth slot ahead of the pitcher. The Marlins are attempting a logical sink-or-swim approach with his discipline by forcing him into a situation with more breaking balls.
"That's one thing he has to learn," hitting coach Tino Martinez said. "In the spring, if there was a base open and a man on second and two outs, he struck out a few times on sliders in the dirt.
"We kept talking with him about, in that situation, you've got to be patient still. On a 3-2 count, they can throw anything they want because of the hitter who is on deck. We're trying to get him to realize that. And how important it is to walk in that situation and get the pitcher up, to clear him for the next inning. He's starting to get to realize that as well."
This "strategy" stems more from Hechavarria being a terrible hitter deserving of fewer plate appearances right now than any strategy for development, but it ends up making sense in the end. The Marlins are forcing Hechavarria to see more breaking balls in each plate appearances and get used to laying off of the pitches in the dirt and out of the zone. What better way to improve on this ability than to be thrown in the fire and have that happen? If he hit higher in the order, perhaps pitchers would challenge him more often because of his terrible play. The fact that, right now, pitchers can still get him out despite not challenging him in the zone is going to be a difficult obstacle for Hechavarria to overcome.
The Marlins are high on Hechavarria's potential at the plate, and he has flashed more patience in the more recent past. However, the odds are still low at this point, and this situation merits continued watching.