At home in left, Yelich can slide over if need be
Ozuna, Marisnick lead center-field depth, but rising star has experience in middle
MIAMI -- Low-key by nature, Christian Yelich tends to take things in stride.
After the Marlins drafted Yelich in the first round in 2010, he was asked to switch from first base to the outfield. Yelich did so without hesitation, and because of his offensive production, he quickly became a touted prospect.
Yelich played center field in 96 games for Class A Jupiter in 2012. A year later, he gladly slid over to left field to make room for Jake Marisnick, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Blue Jays.
Yelich has since found a home in left field. But if plans change for some reason and the Marlins are in need of a center fielder, he is agreeable to shuffling back once again.
"Yeah, I'm cool with that," Yelich said Monday on MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch. "I feel comfortable out there."
Yelich has the athleticism and speed to play center field at spacious Marlins Park. But his throwing arm isn't ideal for a long-term change, so it is unlikely the team would move in that direction.
Marcell Ozuna, who arguably has the strongest throwing arm in the organization, will enter Spring Training as the front-runner to win the starting center-field job. But the 23-year-old will have competition. If Marisnick hits, he is a prototypical center fielder.
When it comes to outfield depth, the Marlins are well stocked. Yelich, Marisnick and Ozuna are capable of handling center field.
In the Minor Leagues, Yelich actually had more games in center (162) than left (126). As a big league rookie, he appeared in five games in center field.
Marisnick, meanwhile, is a natural center fielder, playing all but 17 of his 363 Minor League games there.
Of the three, Ozuna has the least amount of experience in center. As a Minor Leaguer, he played just 38 games in center field, compared to 399 in right field.
With the Marlins, Ozuna is getting much more opportunity. As a rookie, the 23-year-old appeared in 33 games in center and 36 in right field. Ozuna's 2013 campaign was cut short in late July due to a left thumb injury sustained while making a diving catch in center field in Colorado.
The Marlins initially promoted Ozuna from Double-A in late April to replace Giancarlo Stanton, who went down with a strained hamstring. Ozuna took over in right field until Stanton returned.
When full-squad workouts begin for the Marlins on Feb. 20, there promises to be plenty of center-field options. If Ozuna wins the job, Marisnick likely would open the season at Triple-A New Orleans, enabling him to play regularly rather than sit in the big leagues. Brian Bogusevic, who plays all three outfield spots, is expected to make the club as a reserve. Jimmy Paredes is on the 40-man roster, and he has previous big league experience with the Astros.
The list of non-roster invitees who can play center field includes Matt Angle, Joe Benson and Brent Keys, who is a homegrown prospect getting a taste of big league camp.
Reed Johnson, who signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training last week, will have a strong chance to win the second backup outfield spot. An established role player, Johnson is a candidate to pinch-hit, spot start or be a defensive replacement.
The Marlins did show interest in free agent Vernon Wells, who was released by the Yankees. But Wells was seeking the guarantee of a roster spot, something Miami wasn't willing to grant. So Johnson ended up being a better fit.
Because of the depth in center field, Yelich can settle in left field. But just in case, he is ready if something changes.
"Even during the season, you still take some reps out there [in center]," Yelich said on SiriusXM Radio. "You never know when you are going to have to [play there]. I feel comfortable at either one. Whichever one they want me to play, I'm ready to do it."