Marlins' Redmond not afraid to put anyone at cleanup, and he'll have to

JUPITER, Fla. -- Marlins first-year manager Mike Redmond said the team's No. 4 hitter "won't be the traditional sort'' of cleanup hitter.

That is putting it mildly.

Based on Redmond's description, and a later confirmation from the manager, two of the main candidates (maybe the only two candidates) appear to be Casey Kotchman and Placido Polanco. Kotchman has done it a fair amount in spring training and would seem like the more logical pick of the two, and perhaps he is. But the mere fact Polanco is in the mix is a good indicator of how far this team is from having a traditional cleanup man.

The bare-bones Marlins surely have bigger issues (they have only three set starting pitchers, Ricky Nolasco, Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, and beyond Nolasco, no proven ones). But the cleanup spot will be well-watched considering it carries the ability to handicap the team's one major star, Giancarlo Stanton, a No. 3 hitter looking for company. Stanton has been very polite since tweeting his displeasure about the team's hasty fire sale this winter. But this is far from the ideal situation for him.

"I can't imagine why he'd see a fastball all year,'' one scout from an American League team said.

Others are wondering how frustrating it may get for Stanton, who hit 37 home runs and had 86 RBI and a .290 batting average in 2012, when his protection wasn't the greatest, either.

The Marlins actually do have two players who might be able to do the cleanup job. But Logan Morrison is out until sometime in April (at least) with continuing knee problems. And April may be optimistic. "Did he tell you that?'' Redmond said, with a wry smile. (No, actually it was another Marlins person, for the record.)

The Marlins' best player and hitter all spring was 21-year-old Christian Yelich, who was drawing raves from every scout on the east coast of Florida while hitting .364 with a team-high five home runs and 14 RBI. But Yelich, having never played above A-level ball, was optioned to the minors Friday.

Even if this weren't the Marlins, who aren't a team in a position to start their prospects' clocks toward arbitration and free agency, Yelich's utter lack of experience would suggest the minors make sense for him for the moment, even if he did tear the cover off the ball down here.

"All the scouts have been impressed,'' one scout with an NL team said about Yelich. "You'd have to be.''

"He's something special,'' Marlins veteran Juan Pierre said.

Until Morrison is healthy or Yelich is ready, the cleanup spot is going to be something entirely different.

Scouts actually have seen some things to like about some of the young Marlins players, including second baseman Donovan Slano and catcher Rob Brantly, who looks like he's going to hit. But neither one of them is a cleanup candidate -- not for now anyway.

Kotchman, who signed a minor-league deal after camp began, appears to be the most probable for the job based on the description laid out by Redmond of a veteran who's a solid contact hitter, and who can do different things with the bat since Polanco seems better-suited to bat second or elsewhere. Kotchman, 33, hit .229 with 12 home runs for the Indians last year and is batting .455 this spring. Polanco, 37, hit .257 in an injury-plagued 2012 with two home runs season with the Phillies, is hitting .417 this spring.

Kotchman has never hit more than 14 home runs in any season in the majaors, and Polanco has only reached double digits twice in 15 years. It's no surprise neither has much experience in the role. Kotchman has batted 153 times in his career at cleanup, with one home run and a .281 batting average. Polanco has zero hits in seven career at-bats batting cleanup

"I'm not afraid to stick anybody in the four hole,'' Redmond said.

Considering his current active roster, he has no choice.

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