Around the Horn: Marlins strong in outfield

Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna may play new positions in '17

Around the Horn: Marlins strong in outfield

Spring Training for the Marlins gets underway with pitchers' and catchers' workouts beginning on Tuesday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Full-squad practices are set to go on Friday. As the countdown continues, is taking a position-by-position look at how the 2017 Miami squad is shaping up. This is the fifth story in a multipart Around the Horn series that runs periodically until camp starts. Today's focus: Outfield. (Previously: infield, catcher, bullpen, rotation)

MIAMI -- The Marlins have retained their outfield trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. What is subject to change is where they line up on the field.

Manager Don Mattingly is committed to switching Yelich from left field to center, with Ozuna sliding over to left. The club has thought about Stanton swapping with Ozuna, which means he could wind up in left with Ozuna in right. What this means is all three outfielders could be in different spots from the start of last Spring Training.

For now, only one of these switches is definite. Yelich, a Gold Glove winner in left field in 2014, will become a full-time center fielder, a position he primarily played in the Minors.

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The change was not unexpected, especially after Yelich played 31 games in center to close out the 2016 season.

"We liked what we've seen with his first step out there, the routes that he took," Mattingly said. "With our outfield as big as it is, we think that he's got closing speed -- that long speed. We've got a big outfield and we feel like he fits best there in center field."

Whether Stanton switches from right field to left is more unclear. The 27-year-old has played right field exclusively, except for one inning in center, in 2011. He may not be comfortable making a switch, but that could be something the team experiments with in Spring Training.

Stanton's throw to the plate

More than wondering about where they play in the field, the Marlins are hopeful all three stay healthy and are fixtures in the lineup. If they are, the organization feels it has one of the top outfield trios in the National League.

In 2016, all three topped the 20-home run mark. Stanton, despite playing in 119 games, paced the club with 27, while Ozuna finished with 23. Yelich, who never previously had more than nine homers in a season, ended up with 21.

The production Yelich provided in the third spot has Mattingly committed to keeping the heart of the order the same in 2017.

"I still like Yelich [hitting] three," Mattingly said. "You want to give him a chance to drive in runs by hitting a single. And the emergence of the power with [Yelich], he hits 20 homers last year. He's a guy that can drive a run in with a guy on first. So he's turned into an RBI guy, kind of a force in the middle of the lineup."

Yelich added a career-high 98 RBIs, tops on the Marlins.

Yelich's two-run homer

The left-handed hitting outfielder had a slash line of .298/.376/.483, and, according to Statcast™, he batted .362 against four-seam fastballs.

Now with power emerging, Yelich is on the cusp of becoming an All-Star.

Stanton, meanwhile, is the most established star in the outfielder. The 27-year-old is a three-time All-Star, but he comes off a disappointing 2016, batting .240/.326/.489, along with his 27 homers and 74 RBIs. He missed three weeks in the second half due to a Grade 3 left groin injury.

Ozuna showed tremendous promise in 2016, becoming an All-Star for the first time. The 26-year-old had a slash line of .266/.321/.452 with his 23 homers and 76 RBIs.

But after the All-Star break, Ozuna's production dipped to .209/.267/.342 with six homers and 29 RBIs. In the first half, he was .307/.360/.533 with 17 homers and 47 RBIs.

Backing up the three starters is ageless Ichiro Suzuki, who surprised at age 42 last year, batting .291 with a .354 on-base percentage.

Ichiro also provided one of the more memorable moments of 2016 on Aug. 7 when he became the 30th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits.

After turning 43 in October, Mattingly reminds that the best way to get the most out of Ichiro is not to overuse him.

"We felt like our usage with him was better last year, he didn't play as many games," Mattingly said, compared to 2015. "We don't think he's a guy that goes out there five or six days a week. We think in a pinch-hit role, or he plays once or twice a week, that's the best way to use him."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.