Cleanup shaping up to be by committee in Miami
With no clear-cut choice emerging, Marlins will experiment in spot following Stanton
JUPITER, Fla. -- Some creativity will be factored into deciding who will bat cleanup for the Marlins.
The conventional power spot in any team's batting order promises to be anything but traditional in Miami when the regular season gets under way. Thinking outside the box is not being done intentionally by manager Mike Redmond and the organization. It is by necessity, mainly because the club doesn't have a prototypical candidate to bat fourth.
The strongest candidate in camp -- Giancarlo Stanton -- is going to hit third. Redmond wants Stanton batting in the first inning, to allow him as many at-bats as possible.
"Ideally, you talk about your [Nos.] 3 and 4 hitters being your best two hitters in the lineup," Redmond said. "I think, for us, it could be a situation where we have our best contact hitter there. A guy who puts the ball in play, who can move the ball around the field a little bit.
"Obviously, we'd love to have a power guy in there. But I don't know if we have that guy, at least yet."
Who bats fourth is a question the club had entering Spring Training, and no clear-cut choice has emerged with Opening Day at Washington approaching on April 1. Redmond hasn't firmly set his batting order for the first game against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. But the top three are setting up to be Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Stanton.
Providing protection in the lineup for Stanton will be crucial. The 23-year-old is an emerging force who has belted 93 home runs in his first three big league seasons.
For good reason, teams will pitch around him whenever possible. The imposing All-Star connected on 37 homers in 2012, second in the National League to Ryan Braun. His .608 slugging percentage was tops in the Majors, and he might be the strongest player in the game.
In the second half of last year, Stanton primarily batted fourth, with Jose Reyes hitting third. Now that Reyes has been traded to Toronto, Stanton is sliding up one spot.
As for cleanup, it may wind up being by committee.
"We'll mess around with it, and move some guys in and out of there," Redmond said. "It might be a guy who we just decide on any given day, depending on what the matchups are, or maybe a guy has good numbers against a certain pitcher. Then we will plug him in there."
Further handicapping Redmond a bit is the fact his obvious choice, Logan Morrison, is going to open the season on the disabled list. The left-handed-hitting Morrison is recovering surgery to his right knee, and he may not be ready until the end of April or early May.
Since the start of Spring Training, the Marlins have tried a number of options. They've batted 11 players fourth in 25 games, counting a split-squad day and an exhibition contest against Team Venezuela. Redmond notes that some of the options he used in the fourth spot had less to do with game strategy and more to do with getting certain players more at-bats.
Joe Mahoney, who provides tremendous power from the left side, fits the profile a bit, but the first baseman has missed time with an oblique strain.
Realistic Opening Day candidates to hit fourth are Casey Kotchman, Justin Ruggiano and Rob Brantly. Other situational choices are primary bench players like Greg Dobbs, Austin Kearns and Kevin Kouzmanoff. If they are called upon, it likely will be only on occasions -- like day games after night games.
Kotchman, Kearns and Kouzmanoff are non-roster invitees who have not yet secured spots on the team.
"When you're talking about guys hitting fourth," Redmond said, "you want guys who give you good at-bats, who can hit in RBI situations and stay in the strike zone, and put the ball in play.
"I think that's the biggest thing for us. If they're going to walk Stanton with a guy on second, we want somebody who can come up and keep the line moving and pick up a hit. Would we love for a guy to come up and hit a home run? Absolutely. But at the same time, too, I'd take a double in the gap."
Polanco would receive consideration, because he is a contact hitter. But chances are the third baseman will bat second.
"He's a guy who can give you a great at-bat," Redmond said. "He can hit behind a runner, he drives run in. He's hit third. He's hit all over that order."
Of the choices, there isn't lots of experience batting fourth. A year ago, Kearns had 30 at-bats in the cleanup spot for the Marlins, while Dobbs had 29 and Ruggiano posted 27.
"You want somebody who is obviously a run producer," Kearns said. "A guy who does a good job with runners on base and runners in scoring position. I'm sure, at times, they're not going to give Stanton much to hit. So there are going to be guys on base with Juan and Polanco.
"You kind of don't know what you've got until you throw somebody in there with young guys. But I think you definitely want a disciplined hitter."
Brantly, a left-handed hitter with a solid approach, didn't have any at-bats hitting fourth entering Spring Training. Being so young and inexperienced, Redmond may shy away from adding the pressure of batting cleanup to Brantly's already full plate. The catcher also is being asked to handle the pitching staff, so he wouldn't likely be a full-time choice.
Kouzmanoff tops the group with 634 at-bats at cleanup, but he wasn't in the big leagues last year, and he isn't being considered as an everyday player.
Kotchman has 153 career at-bats in the cleanup spot.
"Kotchman, too," Redmond said. "He's a guy who stays within himself. He's not a home run hitter, but he can slap the ball the other way. He can hit the ball up the middle. He pulls balls when he needs to. He gives you a professional at-bat. Definitely, those are guys who are options for us."