Amezaga becoming veteran presence
Utility man aims to instill 'gamer' attitude among young Marlins
JUPITER, Fla. -- Once again, Alfredo Amezaga is pretty much ready for anything.
If this Spring Training seems to be mirroring the past two years for the Marlins' all-purpose player, it's because it is.
A natural middle infielder, Amezaga may yet again find himself ready for an inevitable switch to the outfield. It's happened before and may indeed be on the horizon at some point before Opening Day.
"I know my role," Amezaga said. "I know what it's going to be. I'm just happy I'm here, and I want to help the team."
When you play seven different positions, you are open to creative ideas.
Since the start of Spring Training, Amezaga has primarily worked as a backup at shortstop and second base to Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, respectively. He also takes grounders at third base.
But with the starting center-field job wide open, Amezaga is a fallback plan to return to the outfield by the time the season starts.
Cameron Maybin, regarded as the team's center fielder of the future, tweaked his left hamstring a few days ago. At 20- years old, Maybin is being brought along slowly. His hamstring setback, although not believed to be serious, is limiting some of his repetition.
So Cody Ross and Alejandro De Aza have become front-runners to get a majority of the work in center field. The Marlins conceivably could platoon Ross with the left-handed-hitting De Aza.
Last spring, Amezaga didn't envision playing much center field. The job was won by De Aza in Spring Training. But a few days into the season, De Aza went down with a stress fracture to his right ankle, and Amezaga became a regular in the outfield.
"That's what happened last year. I was working in the infield the whole time, and then [De Aza] got hurt, and I was playing center field," Amezaga said. "That is something you can't control."
If the Marlins opt to not carry both Ross and De Aza, Amezaga is a switch-hitter who could be a wild card in the center-field mix.
In the first couple of weeks of camp, Amezaga has seen enough of Maybin to know the 6-foot-4 native of Asheville, N.C., has special talents. It's just a matter of when he is ready to assume the full-time role.
"He's a great guy," Amezaga said of Maybin. "At this level, he can't just go up there and swing. But he's going to be all right. We've got good coaches here. They will help him get to where he needs to be."
As for Amezaga, he is available to play just about anywhere.
In 2007, he made 87 appearances in center field, three in right field, two in left field, 18 at shortstop, 12 at third base, 11 at second base and four at first base.
Overall, he appeared in 133 games, and notched a career-high 400 at-bats. He finished with a .263 average, and his nine triples paced the team, tying him for fourth in the National League.
His eight outfield assists were second on the team to Josh Willingham's 11.
Amezaga also had a team-high seven bunt singles.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez considers Amezaga a valuable asset off the bench, because when he enters a game he is versatile enough to switch positions in the later innings.
While he may not always be a regular, Amezaga, at age 29, is becoming somewhat of a veteran leader.
What's going to be different for him this season is his close friend Miguel Cabrera is no longer with the Marlins.
Cabrera, traded to the Tigers in the deal that brought Maybin to Florida, became a mentor to Amezaga. The two still speak pretty much every day.
"I am going to bring what Cabrera taught me in the two years I was with him," Amezaga said. "He is young, but he came to the field with some comments like a real veteran. I'm going to try to inject what he said and did to the team."
On a personal side, Amezaga was sad to see Cabrera leave.
"That's baseball," Amezaga said. "He gave me a lot of good advice.
"He helped me off the field. I think he's a better person off the field than he is on the field."
Some words of wisdom Cabrera passed along were to play through pain.
"It got to the point where he was tired, and he was trying to find a way to keep going," Amezaga said. "He'd say, 'When you're tired, you have to push through.'
"There are times when you are physically sore. He was constantly talking to me. If you were tired, or if you were going through a tough time, he said you had to find a way to keep playing hard."
For all the criticism Cabrera received for his weight issues last year, the four-time All-Star played most of the final month with pain very few knew about. He was bothered by a sore groin, which affected his ability to move in the field and run the bases. Yet, he rarely talked about it, and he still managed to finish with a .320 batting average.
"He was really sore late in the year, and he didn't say anything to anybody. Not even to me," Amezaga said. "But he was icing. People don't realize that he's a gamer.
"He was talking to me, and telling me I'm a gamer. I don't know if I'm a gamer, but I try to do what he taught me, and I'm trying to pass that along to these young guys."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.