Spring Training at-bats meaningful for Coghlan

Center-field candidate in battle with Ruggiano, Hernandez for starting job

Spring Training at-bats meaningful for Coghlan

JUPITER, Fla. -- All those old adages about not worrying about Spring Training results may just have to go out the window this month for Chris Coghlan and the rest of the candidates vying for the Marlins' center-field job.

Justin Ruggiano (52 games there last season) and Gorkys Hernandez (35) join Coghlan (13) in the competition to man the position in the outfield between Giancarlo Stanton and Juan Pierre on Opening Day. And with that April job up for grabs, these March at-bats are at a premium.

"In this particular situation that I'm in now, yeah, I've got to win a job," Coghlan said. "Even when I didn't have to win a job and I won a job from my earlier success, [the at-bats] matter, and I care, and they're productive. But the results weren't as important as getting ABs and getting quality ABs. Now, I not only have to have quality ABs, but I have to have results."

So far, so good for Coghlan, who has gotten off to probably the best start of the candidates (which could also include Bryan Petersen, Kevin Mattison and prospect Christian Yelich). Coghlan is hitting .314 through 11 Grapefruit League games, with three doubles and three RBIs.

He went 0-for-3 in Tuesday's loss to the Astros, and was replaced by Hernandez, who was 2-for-3 with a run. Hernandez is hitting .231 with three RBIs this spring.

Ruggiano, the incumbent entering camp, was sidelined with back tightness shortly before the Marlins began Spring Training games, and thus is off to a late start. He debuted on Saturday, and has gone 0-for-4 in two games.

"I'm one of those guys who wants to just go, go, go," Ruggiano said. "And I think the hardest thing for me and most other athletes, is to just slow down. I'm here, I want to work, but there is a time when you do have to take a step back and make your body recover and make sure you're doing the right thing for the longevity of the season."

In this case, a slightly extended Spring Training -- thanks to the World Baseball Classic -- could be to the benefit of players like Ruggiano, who are working out some kinks, and others fighting for as many at-bats as they can get.

It also allows the coaches an extra few days to evaluate, and for outfielders to build a rapport amongst each other, and a feel for one another. But as important as that chemistry is, manager Mike Redmond isn't planning to rush any of his depth chart decisions simply in order to slot players alongside each other in March.

"I'm not really too worried about that," Redmond said. "Those guys have played enough outfield where that'll all come together. I'm not worried about that cohesiveness out there. That's gonna be fine."

Another factor that could come into play is that Hernandez is out of options, and would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Triple-A New Orleans. Coghlan has one option left. So while the records and the stats from March don't mean anything in April, the at-bats and the reps surely do.

"It doesn't matter who's pitching or who I'm facing or what team," Coghlan said. "Everybody's a competitor and you always want to look good, so you always want to play your best and you always want to compete."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.