While reading our Editor Ehsan Kassim’s post on the Marlins projected line-up, it suddenly hit me that Justin Ruggiano needs to win the centerfield job outright for the 2013 Miami Marlins. I am not saying that he should be awarded the spot nor am I saying that he has done enough in an injury plagued Spring Training to have won the job. What I am saying is that the Marlins need Ruggiano to be the player he was in 2012 and that player was good enough to be the everyday centerfielder and clean up hitter in 2013. Ruggiano needs to live up to his famous twitter reply to Ken Rosenthal on whether the Marlins needed to get a centerfielder this offseason:
Here is the MLB.com projected Opening Day line-up again, but with projected home runs and slugging percentage for each player according to ZiPS in parentheses:
1. LF: Juan Pierre (1, .337)
2. 2B: Donovan Solano (3, .342)
3. RF: Giancarlo Stanton (41, .606)
4. 3B: Placido Polanco (3, .330)
5. C: Rob Brantly (9, .374)
6. CF: Justin Ruggiano (13, .422)
7. 1B: Casey Kotchman (11, .389)
8. SS: Adeiny Hechavarria (7, .354)
9. SP: Ricky Nolasco
Besides that Stanton might pull a 1920 Babe Ruth and out homer the rest of team combined, notice that the lowest slugging percentage is in the cleanup spot. Now I really like Placido Polanco, he has the best name ever, is a gold glove winner and has had a very successful career, but he should not be hitting fourth for a professional baseball team at any level. Ruggiano is the only non-Stanton Marlin projected to surpass a .400 slugging percentage, but even this projection is very low when you look at what he did last season.
Ruggiano was acquired by the Marlins last season in late May from the Houston Astros and became a regular in the line-up for as long as he could stay healthy the rest of the season. He ended up getting 320 at bats in which he delivered 13 home runs and a robust .535 slugging percentage. Now I know he also had a crazy lucky .401 batting average on balls in play, so a repeat of that slugging percentage is unrealistic. However, a look at his minor league numbers tells us that Ruggiano has a career .490 slugging percentage over 9 seasons, so the power potential is there. Stanton excluded, no one else in the line-up is probably within 100 points of that slugging percentage. If Ruggiano can approach his minor league levels then he would clearly be the only Marlin qualified to hit in the fourth spot in the order.
Mar 17, 2013; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Justin Ruggiano (20) at bat against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Ruggiano in the clean up spot would also set up the rest of the order. Polanco would return to his more natural second spot while Solano could move down to a less pressurized seventh slot or maybe the sixth slot if you prefer to separate left handed hitting Brantly and Kotchman. When, and if, Logan Morrison returns, he could slide into the fourth spot with Ruggiano and the rest of the order sliding down one spot. At this point you would also have an ideal right left combination from the 3 through 7 spots to help neutralize opposing team’s lefty specialists late in games.
Well that was easy, Marlins line-up all fixed. The only problem is, of course, that Ruggiano has been unable to clearly beat out Chris Coghlan and hold on to a full-time spot in the line-up. It’s all up to you Justin Ruggiano, show me you “got this.”