The Miami Marlins have long had stability at shortstop, having been lucky to always have an option at the position since their first championship season in 1997. The options have not always been good, but they have been clear before the start of the season. From Edgar Renteria to Alex Gonzalez to Hanley Ramirez, Marlins fans have been used to having one shortstop and having that player stick around for a while.
That was supposed to continue this past season with the acquisition of Jose Reyes, who was signed to a six-year deal and seemed a lock to stick around with the Marlins for at least most of that time. But the offseason's fire sale trade with the Toronto Blue Jays changed those plans and introduced a new player for the Marlins' shortstop needs. Enter prospect Adeiny Hechavarria, who may be an integral part of this team's future but also has a large hill to climb to become a good player in the major leagues.
1. Adeiny Hechavarria
2. Chone Figgins
Minor League Depth: Nick Green, Chris Vailaika
The Marlins will turn to Hechavarria to take over the shortstop spot. As we have discussed a few times before, Hechavarria comes with clear strengths and weaknesses as of right now. His strengths at the moment include an excellent reputation on defense that is backed up just by watching him play shortstop. Among the voters of the Fans Scouting Report for the Blue Jays, Hechavarria ranked as their best individual defender while primarily playing third base. Were he to be rated among last season's third basemen, Blue Jays fans would have put him behind only Adrian Beltre in terms of defensive prowess. That is high praise for a young player, and it should improve slightly with him moving back to his normal position. Though he can play third or second base with great capability, his best potential lies at shortstop.
But of course, as we have mentioned, his shortstop skills are undermined by his work at the plate. Despite two good seasons in a heavy hitter's environment in Triple-A Las Vegas, there are still many doubts about Hechavarria's bat when it comes to major league competition. In limited playing time last season with the Blue Jays, Hechavarria managed just a .254/.280/.365 line thanks to a 23.2 percent strikeout rate and a paltry 2.9 percent walk rate. The good news is that his walk rate has been steadily climbing since starting his minor league career. In his first full season in 2010, he posted 3.0 percent and 4.4 percent marks in High-A and Double-A respectively; by the time he reached Triple-A in 2012, that had jumped up to 7.8 percent. With steady improvement, the Marlins may find themselves a decent player at the plate, especially if he develops some of the raw power that is still within his potential.
The problem with all of that, however, is that there are a lot of "if" statements involved. Hechavarria's development has to go very well for him to be an above-average shortstop in the big leagues. The odds of him developing one of the skills mentioned are not that long, but for him to get both and become more than what Alex Gonzalez was seems like a real challenge. With that in mind, at least Hechavarria's floor is relatively high; a player of his skill level defensively will be given every opportunity to establish himself and will not need too much offensive help to become league average. For context, Omar Vizquel was a terrible hitter for six seasons before he improved, and he was still given significant playing time because of his defensive prowess. If Hechavarria is half the defender Vizquel was, he could carve out a solid career in the majors with some small improvement at the plate.
How does all of this translate for the 2013 season?
Clearly, no system thinks very highly of Hechavarria's 2013 chances at the plate. The average wOBA projection of .281 would put him on par with some of the worst hitters of the 2012 season, next to guys like Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar, and Jeff Francoeur from last season. That is not a good list of which to be a part. Most systems see average strikeout rates for Hechavarria backed by a poor walk rate of between four and five percent. If that is the case, it should be a rough offensive season for the Marlins at shortstop.
Luckily, Hechavarria should provide some value on defense, and that may be the team's saving grace at the position. Given his strong scouting reputation with the glove, expecting him to be an elite defender would not be a stretch. Still, let us begin with a conservative estimate of five runs above average over the course of a full season. Putting that into context, such a number would compare to shortstops like Elvis Andrus or Jimmy Rollins over the last three years. That is a good list of which to be a part.
Projection: 600 PA, 1.5 WAR
As you can see, even with the worst offensive projections, Hechavarria can still be one of the better contributors on this young Marlins team. One-and-a-half wins is not anything to write home about, but it would represent a solid rookie campaign for a player who still has a lot of room left to grow. With defensive or offensive improvements, Hechavarria is well on his way to an average career.
Rest of the Team
Chone Figgins has caught fire in spring training and may have earned himself a job as the team's backup utility player. Figgins's problems have been well-recorded, so there is no need to reiterate how poor the chances of him bouncing back from his three-year slump are. Nick Green and Chris Vailaika are mentioned here because they can play shortstop, but the Marlins would prefer for them not to make any major league starts.