"I think ultimately, he can be a top-of-the-order guy," manager Mike Redmond said. "He can hit second. He can run. He's a guy, as he continues to progress, for me, he can be a perfect two-hole hitter."
The projections remain high for Hechavarria, who turns 24 on April 15. But the reality is, the Cuban native must earn his way up the order. For now, he is starting off near the bottom.
Hechavarria is anchoring the No. 8 hole, an unenviable position because the pitcher is behind him. Batting eighth means fewer quality pitches to hit. It requires discipline, and he will be pitched around, especially with two outs and runners in scoring position with a base open.
"That's one thing he has to learn," hitting coach Tino Martinez said. "In the spring, if there was a base open and a man on second and two outs, he struck out a few times on sliders in the dirt.
"We kept talking with him about, in that situation, you've got to be patient still. On a 3-2 count, they can throw anything they want because of the hitter who is on deck. We're trying to get him to realize that. And how important it is to walk in that situation and get the pitcher up, to clear him for the next inning. He's starting to get to realize that as well."
It just takes time. Defensively, Hechavarria has Gold Glove potential. It's his offense that will be closely watched, because that will determine if he blossoms into an elite player.
Hechavarria was one of the centerpiece players the Marlins acquired from the Blue Jays last November. He has a chance to become one of the top shortstops in the National League, if he hits.
"I've never hit in that spot," Hechavarria said of batting eighth. "You know the pitcher is behind you, and they throw you a lot of breaking balls and fewer fastballs. They throw you fewer strikes. You have to be relaxed and be sure to stay in the zone."
Actually, batting at the bottom of the order isn't new for the shortstop. He made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays last Aug. 4, and he started off batting ninth. The difference in the American League, of course, is the designated hitter. So instead of having the pitcher on deck, Hechavarria regularly had the leadoff batter to follow.
In Monday's 2-0, loss to the Nationals on Opening Day, Hechavarria got a taste of what batting eighth is like. He went hitless in three at-bats, with two strikeouts -- both on offspeed pitches.
Of the 14 pitches he saw, seven were of the offspeed variety. In his first at-bat against Stephen Strasburg, Hechavarria struck out on a curveball. His second time facing the Nationals' ace, he lifted a fastball into right field for an out.
Hechavarria's final at-bat was against Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning. It was a seven-pitch showdown that ended with a strikeout on a changeup.
For now, the Marlins are hopeful Hechavarria can relax at the bottom of the order, get a better feel for the strike zone, and contribute as best he can.
"I think the eighth spot right now is the best spot for him, because he's allowed to basically swing at anything that is thrown up there," Martinez said. "It's a free-be to him. He's got a great situation until he gets deep in the count. That's when he has to be more patient."
How Hechavarria can balance thinking aggressive early and being patient deeper in counts will be part of his maturation as an everyday player.
"It's a tough spot to hit," Redmond said. "You can ask anybody. But we feel like he's a guy we can put up there, who will give us a good at-bat, and be aggressive. He can hit breaking balls, and he can hit a fastball."
Since 2006, the Marlins have been accustomed to big production from their shortstop.
Hanley Ramirez won the NL Rookie of the Year Award batting leadoff in 2006. Ramirez slid to the No. 3 spot in 2009, and he won the NL batting title.
A year ago, Jose Reyes played shortstop, and he opened the season batting leadoff. Basically, Hechavarria is the first Miami shortstop since Alex Gonzalez in 2005 to hit in the eighth spot.
"Every time I do my routine in the cage, I try to work up the middle and to right field," Hechavarria said. "When the game starts, I try to have patience. Lately, I've had more patience over the last week of Spring Training, and I've been able to control myself more."