Marlins open up center field competition
JUPITER, Fla. -- A last-place finish often results in several position battles the following season. Not so much for the 2013 Miami Marlins.
That leaves center field.
Justin Ruggiano and Gorkys Hernandez return to compete for the job. Pierre also could see time there; he never had the strongest arm but still can cover the ground. Highly rated prospects Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick also will get looks.
Who can best get it done defensively will factor in rookie manager Mike Redmond's decision on who starts.
"With a young pitching staff, those guys are going to give up some hits. We're going to preach pounding the strike zone and putting the ball in play," Redmond said. "So, we're going to have to be able to pick it up and play catch. Defense is going huge for us."
Ruggiano, 30, was the biggest positive during Miami's abysmal 2012 season. He batted .313 with 13 homers and 36 RBI in 91 games with the Marlins after spending the previous five seasons mostly in the minors when he wasn't enjoying a several stints Tampa Bay.
Despite last year's impressive 288-at-bat production, Ruggiano said he wasn't surprised at having to compete for a starting job this season.
"I've never really been in a situation where anything's been handed to me," Ruggiano said. "It doesn't matter if I was an All-Star last year or if I had a tough year. I'm going to come in and handle my business the same.
"I can't control who makes the decision on who plays where, but I know I can control what kind of work I put forth. I know that I will not get outworked for that position."
Ruggiano did not play winter ball for the first time in his career. Hernandez, meanwhile, was impressive in Venezuela. The 25 year old hit a league-leading .367 in 226 at-bats.
"I just want to do the same thing I did in Venezuela -- I was focused every time I went to home plate," said Hernandez, who was acquired from Pittsburgh for Gaby Sanchez last July. "I'm going to do my best and see what happens."
Redmond had not seen Hernandez perform in person before spring training opened last week.
"I heard he's a tremendous defender and he can really run," Redmond said. "He's had a great winter ball swinging the bat. Hopefully, he'll come in and in his opportunities to play, do well and make it a tough decision for us. That's what we want."
Pierre was signed as a free agent in the offseason to play left, bring some speed and add professionalism to the clubhouse.
"I have no preferences as to where I play, I just want to play," Pierre said.
Yelich and Marisnick are considered two of the organization's top three prospects along with right-hander Jose Fernandez. Yelich currently seems destined for center, with Marisnick possible moving to left.
"Being a young guy, this is like the best organization you could be in," Yelich said. "They're going to use their young guys and give you a shot -- that's really all you can ask for."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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