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Versatile Villar to get tryout in center field with Marlins

Miami Marlins infielder Jonathan Villar (2) run drills during spring training baseball practice in Jupiter, Fla., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

By STEVEN WINE

AP Sports Writer

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Versatile newcomer Jonathan Villar is expected to be an ironman in the Miami Marlins' lineup, even if they don’t know where.

Villar played in all 162 games last year for the Baltimore Orioles, mostly at second base and shortstop. But the Marlins will give him a spring training tryout in center field because they have little experience there.

“I’m coming here to help the team,” Villar said. “They want me to play center field, so I’ll try. If I can play another position I’ll do it.”

Villar's seven-year career has included eight games in center field, most recently in 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers. He has been mostly a middle infielder but has also played third base and left field.

“We’re going to mess around with center field and see if that’s a position he can handle,” manager Don Mattingly said. “You look at Jonathan and really feel he’s the best athlete on the field. So we’re going to give it a shot. We think he fits there with our club and our pieces, and it would be great if he is able to pick that up. We’ve got spring training to see.”

Regardless of whether Villar plays center field, he's the centerpiece of offseason efforts to upgrade an offense that scored the fewest runs in the majors in 2018-19 as Miami lost 203 games. The speedy switch-hitter gives the Marlins the prototypical leadoff man they've lacked since trading Dee Gordon two years ago.

Last year Villar had 24 homers and 73 RBIs, both career highs, while batting .273 and stealing 40 bases. He was one of five players to play in all 162 games.

“That was a surprise for me,” he said. “I never thought I would do it. This year I'll try to play every game again.”

But where?

The Marlins are hoping highly regarded Isan Diaz will take charge at second base after batting just .173 in 49 games as a rookie. With Miguel Rojas they're set at shortstop, the only position where they ranked above average in WAR last year.

Third base is an option for Villar, which would push Brian Anderson to right field. But the job in center is open, with prospect Monte Harrison, Magneuris Sierra, Lewis Brinson and utilityman Jon Berti among the other candidates.

“There are options,” Mattingly said. “Jonathan's mindset has been, ‘I’m here to win, I'll give it a try.' If it doesn’t look like it's going to work, we’ll pivot and make adjustments.”

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Updated February 18, 2020

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