Marlins' Adeiny Hechavarria and the encouraging tale of Emilio Bonifacio

Rich Schultz

Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has some questionable skills at the plate, but the history of Emilio Bonifacio's development can be a positive comparison for the young shortstop.

Two days ago, Miami Marlins shortsto Adeiny Hechavarria had a career game at the plate. He picked up a triple and a home run, both hits coming with the bases loaded, and drove in seven runs total. While the impressive part of the game was in the circumstances involved with his plate appearances, the hits themselves were well-struck line drives going to other way. The actual hits were also impressive.

Hechavarria briefly stood above the Mendoza line last night when he hit his first double of the season, but he eventually fell back under at a .197 batting average. Still, his paltry .280 wOBA ranks fourth among the team's regular starters, behind only Justin Ruggiano, Giancarlo Stanton, and Donovan Solano. With two of those players injured, Hechavarria may have to deliver more with the bat to help compensate.

Going into the 2013 season, Hechavarria's lack of ability at the plate was well-known. He was only a career .274/.315/.382 line in the minors, and that included 606 plate appearances of .327/.376/.446 hitting in Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League to make that happen. Hechavarria's work before Triple-A was so bad that he had to tear up that league just to be mediocre.

The problems with his game at the plate were obvious. He was a hacker who could not find any plate discipline; he struck out in 16.1 percent of plate appearances but walked in only 5.8 percent of them. Walking at such a low rate would leave him depending on batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and power to provide value, except that Hechavarria never displayed power and his luck only turned once he played in the PCL.

However, compare him to another minor leaguer with potential but poor work at the plate in whom the Marlins invested a lot of time and effort.

Player, Minor Leagues K% BB% ISO AVG OBP SLG
Adeiny Hechavarria 16.1 5.8 .109 .273 .315 .382
Emilio Bonifacio 18.7 7.6 .077 .283 .341 .360

The lines are slightly different, but the importance is that Bonifacio, like Hechavarria, was a player struggling with the problems of poor plate discipline and low power. But Bonifacio developed from there and became a patient enough hitter to walk at a nine percent rate in 2011 and 2012. He improved enough of his hitting that he became an acceptable second-division starter, a player who was just a bit below league average but playable, especially given his versatility and speed.

Well, Hechavarria has a similar situation. He too is trying to develop some plate discipline to improve his game, and the early accounts so far look good when compared to Bonifacio.

Player, Season Swing% OSwing% ZSwing% Contact% OContact% ZContact% Zone%
Hechavarria, 2013 44 23 64 86 73 90 52
Bonifacio, 2009 47 33 61 81 69 88 50

Bonifacio in the past was fooled into swinging at bad pitches fairly often, and his first season with the Marlins became a disaster because of that. He did not make enough contact to avoid strikeouts but he could not find his way on base because he rarely took a walk. He resolved this issue by taking more pitches, yielding more strikeouts but more walks and an improved ratio over the next three seasons.

Hechavarria, however, has already begun the process of cutting down on his swings, at least according to the early 2013 numbers. Hechavarria has not ventured often out of the zone, and in fact, among the team's regular starters, he has been the most selective about out-of-zone swings. At the same time, Hechavarria has awakened an additional tool that Bonifacio lacked: contact within the strike zone. He is making contact on 90 percent of his swings inside the zone, and that is helping avoid strikeouts and put the ball in play more often, which is more than acceptable for the Marlins.

Hechavarria will have a head start compared to Bonifacio in developing his plate discipline if he keeps up this performance going forward. If he can continue to develop this approach at the plate, he too can see his walk rates and on-base percentage climb, thus making him less of a liability with the bat.due to his lack of power. Bonifacio once had almost a three-win season thanks to his speed and his improved work at the plate.

The big encouraging difference between the two, however, is that Hechavarria has projectable power. Unlike Bonifacio, whom you could see was going to be a bunter or slap hitter of the Juan Pierre variety, Hechavarria could be projected to add power to his game. His swing, when done properly, is compact and has little extra movement involved. He has shown that early this season, as he has posted a .190 ISO thus far with three triples and two home runs. It is unlikely that half of Hechavarria's hits will go for extra bases going forward, but considering that Bonifacio only had 18 extra-base hits in 2009, Hechavarria's start with six early ones is pretty good.

Both players also have an encouraging, plus-plus tool that should help them stick in the majors. For Bonifacio, that was his speed and ability on the bases. For Hechavarria, that is his above-average play at shortstop. Both aspects could yield upwards of one win better than the average player, though Hechavarria's potential Gold Glove defense has more upside.

Adeiny Hechavarria's meager start is at least being backed up by positive signs. He has been working on his plate discipline and seems to be ahead of the curve when compared to his spiritual predecessor Bonifacio. He has shown some pop early in his career. His defense offers a better upside than Bonifacio's speed. In almost every way, he is a better version of the type of player Bonifacio was, and Bonifacio eventually became a decent starter for the Marlins. If Hechavarria can continue trending in this direction, it is a positive for the Miami Marlins.

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