Every winter during the Rule 5 draft, all 30 major league clubs have the opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle. Historically, the selection period has been pretty good to the Miami Marlins, who acquired the likes of Dan Uggla, Justin Bour and Elieser Hernandez for a minimal fee. In 2021, the Marlins did it again, successfully plucking positive MLB production out of virtual obscurity in the form of Charles Leblanc.
- July 29: selected to Marlins 40-man roster
- July 30: made MLB debut
- September 23: presented with Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp MVP award
- October 16-24: played for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League
- November: committed to represent Team Canada in 2023 World Baseball Classic
A 25-year-old infielder in the Texas Rangers’ system at the time of his selection, Leblanc quickly made a great first impression on the backfields in Jupiter during spring training (including when he hit an opposite-field home run off of top prospect Zach McCambley during a sim game). The native Canadian was assigned to AAA Jacksonville. Leblanc cemented himself as somebody worthy of regular playing time by hitting .386/.457/.700 in April while showing the ability to play multiple positions.
On July 27, with the big league club dealing with a slew of injuries, Leblanc was slashing .302/.381/.503 and riding a 14-game on base streak. The choice was simple: Leblanc needed to get his shot. At the start of the next homestand, he was in Miami to make his MLB debut against the New York Mets.
On July 30, he doubled. The next day, he hit his first career home run off of Taijuan Walker. On a team struggling for offense, Leblanc became virtually impossible to bench.
Overall, Leblanc reached base safely in 27 straight games with the Jumbo Shrimp and Marlins from July 8 through August 13. He continued to be productive down the stretch. In 48 MLB games, Leblanc had a 0.9 WAR and a 107 wRC+. He hit .263/.320/.404. It was more of the same during a brief stint in the Dominican Winter League (.281/.333/.469).
Although Leblanc was arguably the best thing going for Miami for most of the second half, one could be quick to dismiss him as the beneficiary of good fortune. On top of a 31% K rate and a low 7% walk rate, Leblanc had a .374 BABIP.
However, Leblanc seems to have a knack for hitting it where they ain’t. He used the opposite field 33.0% of the time, more often than any other Marlins player. In the rare instances that defenses shifted against him, his numbers perked up.
Leblanc isn’t built for a ton of over-the-fence power, nor is his aggressive approach at the plate conducive to drawing free passes. What he offers is gap-to-gap doubles potential and enough quality contact to compensate for his frequent strikeouts. As he gets more looks at big league stuff, hopefully that K rate will come down, anyway.
With the Marlins in their current state, Leblanc will come to spring training in 2023 with the opportunity to win the starting job at third base. Even if that position is addressed by the start of the season, it is hard to imagine Leblanc not being on the big league squad in some capacity. At the very least, in Leblanc, the Marlins have a solid athlete and a productive first bat off the bench, and they essentially got him for free.