Spring Training 2014: Marlins position battle report, Week 3

The Marlins position battle report gets a little more tense as we approach the stretch run for the Fish. Can Marcell Ozuna hold onto his center field job despite his struggles?

The Miami Marlins are a few weeks away from Opening Day and their roster pieces still have not been determined in critical spots. The situation in center field remains an open question, while the bullpen and fifth starter spots have a small amount of doubt left in them. Who has gained an edge this week? Let's start in the team's most contentious spot.

Center Field
PLAYER PA AVG OBP SLG
Marcell Ozuna 47 .135 .298 .243
Jake Marisnick 35 .375 .429 .500

This seems a tad unfair. Marisnick has run into an extended hot streak while Ozuna has failed to garner any momentum in Spring Training, but the order up here remains the same. The reason for that has less to do with the Marlins' confidence in Ozuna and more to do with the team's more likely contingency plan in case Ozuna continues to falter.

If Ozuna fails to capture the starting center field spot by continuing to play poorly, Miami is more likely to turn to Christian Yelich in center field rather than rushing Marisnick to the big leagues. Last season's 100-plate appearance sample was enough to convince Miami that Marisnick, a prized prospect whom Fish Stripes ranked second in the organization, is probably not ready to face Major League pitching. Rather than deviate from the plan in a player who may not be ready, Miami will turn to veteran help in left field and depend on Yelich's athleticism in center.

The plan would then be to use Ozuna's roster spot for non-roster invitee Reed Johnson, who has impressed in Spring Training (.438/.471/.625 in 34 plate appearances). Johnson would then platoon with lefty Brian Bogusevic in left field until either Ozuna figured out his perceived problems or Marisnick proved ready for another look in the majors. At this stage, this option may not be a bad one and it is something Miami could implement successfully. Neither Ozuna nor Marisnick probably spent enough time in the high minors, especially after Ozuna was promoted just 70-plus plate appearances into his Doube-A caareer. Both players could use polish at the plate, and in the meantime the Marlins are testing Yelich's capability in center field in case that becomes a necessity in the future.

Fifth Starter
PLAYER IP K BB ERA
Tom Koehler 12 11 2 0.75
Brad Hand 12 15 2 0.75

Well, it doesn't get any closer than this. The Marlins have basically demoted the remaining candidates for the fifth starter spot, all but assuring that Jacob Turner holds the fourth sport and leaving the competition for the fifth and final position between just two players. Both Koehler and Hand have been fantastic in their Spring Training outings, and their numbers are almost a dead heat.

Given the high strikeouts, low walks, and small sample sizes for both pitchers, what will determine whom the Marlins turn to as their fifth starter? Hand has essentially assured himself a roster spot because he is also out of options and the Marlins cannot stash him in Triple-A this season. But unlike Koeher, Hand has another position where he can excel and provide the team value. Miami has Dan Jennings as their de facto second LOOGY in the bullpen, but demoting Jennings and allowing Hand to pitch in that role could be the way that the team fits both players into the roster. If that's the case, then Koehler would win the starting job by default, as the team has no need for an additional righty in the pen.

Kevin Slowey is not mentioned here, but it is very possible Miami can fit him into a long relief role in the pen. It does not appear he is being considered for the starting spot.

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