The Miami Marlins struggled all throughout the 2013 season with regards to their infield, which suffered from offensive and defensive deficiencies. But no one player signified the horrid state of the infield than Adeiny Hechavarria, who played almost the entire season as the team's shortstop after being acquired in the Toronto Blue Jays fire sale trade. Hechavarria was labeled the shortstop of the future to follow in the footsteps of Jose Reyes, but he proved to be so overmatched at the Major League level in 2013 that he posted one of the worst seasons in recent Major League memory.
Depth Chart: Shortstop
1. Adeiny Hechavarria
2. Donovan Solano
Minor League Depth: Ed Lucas
Hechavarria began the year as the team's shortstop and held the job throughout the season despite the alarmingly terrible numbers he posted. Before that year, it was known that Hechavarria had poor plate discipline and may struggle at the plate, but it was impossible to expect the travesty that happened as the season went on. Among players with at least 500 plate appearances, Hechavarria had the second-worst batting line in the majors, ahead of only Alcides Escobar. According to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), Hechavarria posted the fourth-worst season among players with at least 500 plate appearances in the last ten years, topping only the worst years by Yuniesky Betancourt, Aubrey Huff, and the end of Bernie Williams's career.
So the 2013 season was an entirely unsuccessful season for Hechavarria, and it had a large part to do with his offense. He posted just a .227/.268/.298 (.251 wOBA) batting line, which is the eighth-worst line in the last decade for a single season. That line came about because of his lack of plate discipline and power; Hechavarria walked in just 5.2 percent of plate appearances and had a .072 ISO and just three homers all season. He made weak contact all season long, popping up 11.4 percent of his fly balls and hitting grounders at a 52 percent rate. That, combined with some bad luck, led to a bad BABIP as well, only compounding the problem for him.
Is there any chance that that improves in 2014? Yes and no. It is likely that luck turns a little better for Hechavarria, if only because very few hitters who deserve a second opportunity at significant playing time could possibly be this bad again. As bad as some of the players were on that list of worst single-season batting lines, none in the top ten were repeaters and only two of them showed up twice on the list (Betancourt and Escobar). The odds are on Hechavarria improving just by virtue of him being in the majors, though he may still be the exception to the rule.
More importantly, there are at least some good signs. He did improve on his swing rate and patience slightly last season, and he made better contact in 2013 than he did in his short 2012 stint. Of particular interest is the fact that he made contact on 91 percent of pitches in the zone last season, which is about an acceptable amount for a slap hitter who gets away with low strikeout rates. Consider that teammate Rafael Furcal has an 89 percent contact rate with a 92 percent rate in the strike zone since 2007. Of course, Furcal developed an excellent eye for strikes and limited his swings on pitches out of the zone, and Hechavarria will have to develop that skill to really succeed at the plate. Still, the contact is a decent start.
The other thing that can still improve for Hechavarria in 2014 is his defense. His reputation as a fantastic glove holds, but the defensive numbers were all terrible last season. He still looked like a skilled player; Marlins fans voted him at least an average shortstop last season, so there was no reason to suspect him being the disaster that some of the statistics said he was. If he becomes an above-average player at the position, some leeway will be allowed for him to struggle at the plate. Then again, players like Cezar Izturis or Brendan Ryan were excellent career defenders who never held starting jobs because they simply could not hit, and at this rate Hechavarria might be headed in that direction, if not worse.
The projection systems do not see much of a chance for success this year for Hechavarria.
The difference in these projections is how the systems viewed his defense. Oliver complimented Hechavarria for fine defensive work, making him a well-above-average fielder and thus an acceptable Major League starter. The other two systems made him closer to average and thus more of a replacement-level player. But each system agreed with his terrible bat, as they all had him hitting .245/.285/.330.
Overall, the systems are expecting a .275 wOBA and 0.3 WAR in 600 plate appearances. If that is what the Marlins can expect, that leaves them with another weak option in the infield and two players who will take on a lot of playing time and produce very little for the Fish. Despite all the moves made in the offseason, it appears as though Miami still has a lot of improvement to make in the infield in terms of expected production.