JUPITER, Fla. -- Pitchers and catchers have occupied the practice fields the first four days of Marlins Spring Training. Beginning Monday, position players join the act as full-squad workouts get underway at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.
When the position players join camp, they will be introduced to several new coaches on the staff, as well an updated offensive mindset.
It’s no secret that upgrading a sluggish offense was the organization’s top offseason priority. Now, the organization has a new hitting coach, Eric Duncan, and for the first time, an unofficially titled “offensive coordinator,” bench coach James Rowson.
As a collective effort, the Marlins will be formulating hitting strategies aimed at improving an offense that ranked last in the Majors in 2019 in home runs (146) and second-to-last in runs (615).
“The philosophy, in terms of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build and the direction we’re trying to go -- we want to put ourselves in position that we’re going to do damage,” Duncan said.
A year ago, the Marlins saw that Duncan had the makings of a being a standout hitting coach.
“Dunc has been a guy you could tell last year, he’s really knowledgeable,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s really good with the players. He’s up to speed with all of the analytics and how it works and what it's showing.”
In 2019, Duncan was brought in as a Minor League hitting coordinator. But early in the season, after Mike Pagliarulo was dismissed as the Marlins’ hitting coach, Jeff Livesey went from assistant hitting coach to interim hitting coach. Duncan was then promoted as the team’s interim assistant hitting coach.
This year, Duncan has the title of hitting coach, with Robert Rodriguez as the new assistant hitting coach.
“We feel like Dunc is a young hitting coach who is really on the move,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, there were people talking about him and asking about him in the offseason, also.”
Not wanting to lose one of their more promising young coaches, Duncan received the promotion.
The bottom line for the Marlins is that they need to dramatically upgrade an offense that ranked at or near the bottom of the Majors in just about all significant categories in 2019.
“You can go in a lot of different directions when you start talking philosophy and all that stuff,” Duncan said. “I think it all starts with building relationships and trust.”
Although the position players officially take the field on Monday, Duncan has been working with players since shortly after the 2019 season ended. He lives in the Jupiter area, and he was a regular at the complex in the offseason.
Shortstop Miguel Rojas, second baseman Isan Díaz, outfielders Monte Harrison and Lewis Brinson and shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm were among the regulars.
“It’s about building trust, and then you can start to really dig in and see what makes guys tick,” Duncan said. “What puts that guy in a good position? What’s going to allow him to maximize his best move and his best swing?”
In the age of advanced analytics and video data, the Marlins are also pooling together their resources.
Something new this year are iPads, positioned on tripods, several feet away from each hitter. Through a video program on an app, the hitters’ swings will be recorded on about a four-second delay. That gives them time to review their swing, if they wish, before the next pitch.
“It’s not for everybody,” Duncan said. “One guy might like the immediate feedback, and other guys, they don’t want that. What works for Player A might not work for Player B. But I have to know what works for Player B and make sure that he is getting what he needs.”
The hiring of Rowson has been widely praised throughout the industry. In Minnesota last year, the Twins set an MLB single-season mark with 307 home runs, and they finished second to the Yankees in runs with 939. New York scored 943.
Marlins Park promises to be more hitter-friendly in 2020 as the fences were adjusted, moving in from center field to right-center.
The Marlins also feel they upgraded their offense, with the additions of Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson, Jesús Aguilar, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli and non-roster invitee Matt Kemp. They join a core that includes Rojas, Jorge Alfaro, Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper.
“There’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all,” Duncan said. “I definitely believe that each player is unique. We want to do damage as a group. Now, how each person gets there will obviously be different.”