JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Lifelong Marlins fan Lewis Brinson is eager to see his team make the playoffs, and not just because he missed the end of their most recent postseason game.
Brinson was 9 when the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, with Josh Beckett shutting out the New York Yankees in Game 6 to clinch the championship.
“I tried to stay up,” Brinson said. “I feel asleep in the seventh inning, and my mom told me they won the next morning.”
The Marlins haven’t been to the postseason since, the National League’s longest drought. Odds are long it will end this season as the Marlins begin their latest reboot, a makeover that happens to include Brinson.
He’s likely to be the opening day center fielder.
“I love being part of the rebuild,” Brinson said, “and hopefully taking this team to a new level and new heights — to put the Marlins back in the map.”
He grew up in South Florida and returns home as the most highly regarded prospect acquired by the Marlins during new CEO Derek Jeter’s offseason roster breakup. Brinson came to Miami in the trade that sent left fielder Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers, and the youngster’s fast start in spring training is an encouraging development for a franchise desperately needing such signs.
“I know I can hit up here,” he said. “I can hit for average. I can hit for power and do it consistently.”
In the first 10 games of spring training, Brinson went 9 for 22 (.409) with five doubles and a mammoth home run.
“I like Lewis from the standpoint of adjustments,” manager Don Mattingly said Thursday. “That has probably been the most impressive thing. You’ll see one at-bat that looks bad. Next at-bat, the guy tries to get him again with the same pitch, and he lays a hit out there. …
“His work is kind of different from a young guy that’s trying to show you he can hit the ball out of the ballpark every time.”
Brinson batted .331 last year for Triple-A Colorado Springs, and he has 89 homers and 96 stolen bases in six minor league seasons. But he flopped in a brief 2017 tryout with the Brewers, batting .106 with only five hits and 17 strikeouts in 47 at-bats.
He says he was nervous and too eager, and is confident he’s ready for major league pitching. So are the Marlins, who don’t believe the 23-year-old Brinson needs more time in the minors.
“He had a tremendous Triple-A season,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said, “so I don’t know how much is there left for him to prove.”
Plus the Marlins need outfielders after trading away all three starters — Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and major league home run leader Giancarlo Stanton.
As a sign of their faith in Brinson, they awarded him uniform No. 9. It belonged to his favorite player, Juan Pierre, the center fielder on the 2003 World Series team and now a team instructor.
Brinson has fond memories of sitting in the outfield stands that season.
“I wouldn’t even watch the game. I would just watch Juan Pierre,” he said. “I’ll wear his number with pride.”
The Marlins hope it will again become a fixture in a championship lineup.
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