Take a look around the Roger Dean Stadium complex, and you’ll notice the Miami Marlins have some colorful accessories to help their players through practice.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has yellow strings set up in front of catchers while working on bullpens. Infield coach Trey Hillman has red and blue paint coated on corners of bases to aid with baserunning techniques.
They might not be revolutionary tactics, but they’re reminders that the Marlins are stressing the basics.
And maximizing the basics will be critical for for a rebuilding team that needs any advantage it can once the season begins.
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“If you can show your players that something is important to you, and you can get them to buy in, there is less resistance,” Stottlemyre said. “It’s part of our approach.”
Both props emphasize a similar goal: Location.
Let’s start with the strings. Four yellow strings are lined directly in front of the catchers at six warmup mounds adjacent to the batting cages. They provide a visual representation of the strike zone, which Stottlemyre said should help the 36 pitchers in attendance better understand the value of maximizing location with each pitch.
“I’m going to ask these guys to pitch to contact and to use the plate to work up and down, in and out, on the plate,” Stottlemyre said. “I have to give them a reference, and I have to stick to it. I have to be willing to stick to the guns, so to speak.”
It’s a strategy that the Marlins used before when Mark Wiley was the team’s pitching coach in 2008-2009.
Pitching is expected to be the Marlins’ strength this year behind a starting rotation that includes Opening Day starter Jose Urena, veterans Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen, and four rising talents in the mix as well as a bullpen featuring newly signed Sergio Romo, Adam Conley and Drew Steckenrider among others. Anything to make sure they live up to their potential is welcomed.
“Taking a look at this pitching staff and what they’re capable of doing, the weapons they have, it was made very clear from the organization and diving into analytics, we need to create a little more awareness of misses, and really what down is and what up is,” Stottlemyre said.
As for the bases, the coloring provide a starting point for Hillman to gauge the proper path each player should take to put themselves into position to get extra bases.
“Inches matter,” Hillman said. “We can utilize that part of the base for gaining momentum, and good, solid direction with body position, and get to the next base.”
Hillman is stressing a “two-base mentality,” in which each player is focusing on maximizing their efforts each time a ball is put in play to have the chance to snag an extra base.
“The key is going to be follow up for us and buy in with our players,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We have to continue to stay with it. You can’t talk about something for three weeks in spring training and then not really stay on it all year long. For us, it’s going to be follow up, focus, attention to it and our guys buying into what we’re trying to do.”