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Article: Infield defense to depend on Choi


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By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

 

JUPITER, Fla. -- Playing defense is serious business with the defending World Series champion Marlins.

New first baseman Hee Seop Choi will understand that very quickly when position players take the practice field next week at Roger Dean Stadium.

 

Choi, the rangy 6-foot-5 left-hander, has a big glove to fill. The Marlins acquired the 24-year-old Korean from the Cubs for Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee.

 

Marlins first base coach/infield coordinator Perry Hill isn't expecting Choi to duplicate the exploits of Lee. But Hill believes Choi can become a much better than average defensive player.

 

As thorough as any infield coach in the league, Hill plans on giving Choi his undivided attention this spring.

 

"He is going to notice right away how seriously all the infielders take playing our defense," Hill said.

 

When Lee was patrolling first, the Marlins had arguably the best infield defense in the league. All-Star Luis Castillo won his first Gold Glove last year at second base, and Hill believes All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell was deserving of the honor last year.

 

Flashy shortstop Alex Gonzalez is on the verge of becoming a Gold Glove winner.

 

All three benefited greatly with the athletic Lee at first. Because Lee gobbles up everything thrown in his direction, Hill said the rest of infielders had a comfort level to make more daring plays.

 

"With D-Lee, the other guys knew they didn't have to be perfect," Hill said. "If Gonzo made a diving play at short, he would make that [difficult throw]because he was so comfortable that Derrek would catch it."

 

Without that safety net at first, the Marlins infielders might think of holding onto the ball, rather than risk an error.

 

It's going to take time to get Choi acclimated.

 

Hill is eager to see how Choi responds.

 

Position players begin workouts on Feb. 26. When they do, Hill will make sure Choi gets plenty of work with the regulars.

 

"In the past, all the drills we worked on we keep those core players together," Hill said. "We didn't split them up. In the first six or seven days, we will field a lot of ground balls. Hee Seop will get plenty of chances."

 

Taking grounders is just part of Hill's workout plan. The Marlins infielders also work on fielding short fly balls to the outfield and into foul territory.

 

In the two years working with Castillo and Lee, Hill never remembers seeing a miscommunication where the ball dropped between the two of them.

 

Choi also has to work through that with the speedy Castillo.

 

Much of Hill's defensive techniques deal with footwork and positioning. Infield drills, obviously, are common from T-ball to the big leagues. Hill, who has an instructional video/DVD for young players, takes pride when his fielders are performing at a higher level than the rest.

 

Hill is a stickler for detail, and his eyes rarely miss the slightest flaw on the field. He studies hitters, charts their tendencies and positions his defenders accordingly.

 

His track record includes helping produce Gold Glove winners in Castillo, Lee and Montreal shortstop Orlando Cabrera (2001). So appreciative was Cabrera that in the spring of 2002, when Hill had just joined the Marlins' staff, the Expos shortstop presented his former coach with an autographed glove.

 

For the first few days of drills, Hill won't say much to Choi about fielding. Instead, he will observe.

 

"I will just watch for a while," Hill said. "Maybe he does what we do. After a week or so, I'll tell him what he can do better."

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I often have wondered if Lee was a gold glove caliber 1B before Hill got here. I think Lee was better than average, but he certainly became more of a high profile defensive 1B when Hill came in 2 years ago (with the rest of the Expos staff). Hill is an excellent teacher and knows the difference between coaching up and tearing down a player's tendencies. I think Choi has the desire and the physical size to replace Lee. Hill is certainly one of the best and a very good shot at getting Choi to be as good defensively as he ever will be. I am very excited about Choi this upcoming season...I love watching young players develop.

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