PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Derek Dietrich's plate is full. He just doesn't see it that way. But the former utility infielder has suddenly become a leader and full-time player as an outfielder for the Marlins in 2018. And he just might be the team's leadoff hitter to boot.Dietrich hit
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Derek Dietrich's plate is full. He just doesn't see it that way. But the former utility infielder has suddenly become a leader and full-time player as an outfielder for the Marlins in 2018. And he just might be the team's leadoff hitter to boot.
Dietrich hit from the top of the Marlins' lineup on Sunday, blasting a solo home run in the fifth inning off Mets reliever Paul Sewald in a 10-3 loss at First Data Field. That came after he displayed the keen eye and patience that leadoff hitters are more noted for, coaxing a walk in the third.
"I was kind of waiting to get into the [home run] mix," Dietrich said. "I saw [Scott] Van Slyke hit those first two that first day and I thought, 'Man, I've been putting in some work this offseason. Come on now, I want to get on the board here.'"
Dietrich is about to embark on a fresh start in left field, parallel to the club's new beginning with a cast of top prospects and a few veterans, like Dietrich, to help guide the Marlins along.
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"I never frame anything in the negative, so I don't look at it as my plate is full. I've got a big appetite," Dietrich said on Sunday, prior to loading up for the bus ride over to Port St. Lucie and a date with the Mets.
The 28-year-old has played in just 59 games in left field, logging 416 innings at the position over five Major League seasons. But that doesn't hold Dietrich back from embracing his new role.
"I kind of fall back on my athleticism and just my overall versatility and my baseball instinct as far as initially starting to get back out there," said Dietrich, who became the longest-tenured Marlins player after the offseason moves. "And then, like anything else, with more repetition, more games played, more innings played, you kind of get even more comfortable out there.
"But really it's just about getting those innings during the baseball game. That's when you really get better. The work is important in practice, but there's nothing that mimics the game."
Knowing his daily spot will be left field -- rather than hopping from position to position around the infield -- provides a level of comfort for Dietrich, whose role has steadily increased with the Marlins each year.
"Absolutely, just to be in the lineup every day, that's really the biggest factor," Dietrich said. "Now you know to prepare to play. You kind of get into a routine that's more for you, and you know you're going to get three, four, five at-bats every single night.
"That's really what I want. That's kind of the last piece of the puzzle for me as far as my career goes, being that everyday player where I know that I can get things rolling and keep things rolling, and I don't have to wait a few days [to play] and get a few at-bats here or there."
No, Dietrich shouldn't have to worry about getting enough at-bats. He is the leading candidate to hit at the top of the Marlins' order, although manager Don Mattingly isn't quite ready to write that in stone. From that spot in the lineup, Dietrich has hit .276 with a .405 on-base percentage in 29 regular-season games.
"He gets on base, he has a high on-base percentage (.337 lifetime)," Mattingly said. "But we have so many spots open that we don't know exactly where we're going [with the leadoff spot]. Derek may be a guy that we need to be a run producer back there instead of a guy just being on base."
Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com.