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Struggles Aside, Lewis Brinson Living His Dream With Marlins

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ATLANTA—Walk into the Marlins' clubhouse on any given day, and there is a good chance you’ll see Lewis Brinson smiling.

It’s not because of anything he’s doing on the field. He’s hitting .164 and by his own admission is not where he wants to be.

But Brinson, the Marlins' No. 1 prospect and No. 18 on BA's Top 100 Prospects list entering the year, is having the time of his life. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native is playing center field for the Marlins, just like his boyhood idol, Juan Pierre. He's doing the one thing he’s wanted to do since he was a young boy watching from the center field stands at then-Pro Player Stadium.

“When I first heard about the trade and coming over here, you know, it was very exciting,” Brinson said. “I couldn’t wait to get to spring training. All my family members and friends, we were all Marlins fans growing up and now I’m playing for the hometown team. It’s very exciting, very fun. I’m definitely blessed to get this opportunity. It’s literally a dream come true for me.”

Brinson, 23, was the headline prospect the Marlins acquired from the Brewers in the trade for Christian Yelich in January. The Rangers originally drafted him in the first round in 2012 from Coral Springs (Fla.) High School, and he went to Milwaukee in the Jonathan Lucroy deal in 2016.

Brinson fell in love with baseball watching the Marlins, and was captured in particular by their 2003 World Series team. When he was selected to play in the Futures Game at Marlins Park last year, Brinson could barely contain his excitement at the thought of meeting Charles Johnson, Cliff Floyd, Ivan Rodriguez and other Marlins greats during the festivities.

And that affinity for the Marlins is what drove him to become the best center fielder he could become.

“That’s how I kind of grew towards Juan Pierre,” Brinson said. “Sitting in center field, sitting in the outfield, hoping to catch a home run ball, hoping to catch a ball that he would throw to us after he was done warming up with the right fielder. Just a lot fond memories at that place.”

It was a storybook homecoming off the field, but it hasn’t yet played out that way on the field.

Brinson entered Saturday hitting .164 through his first 42 games, with a 34 percent strikeout rate and a .494 OPS that is second-lowest among everyday players.

He’s currently mired in a 1-for-16 slump, which follows separate stretches of 0-for-26 and 3-for-23 this year.

“I’m not where I want to be,” Brinson said. “Slow start is obviously not where I want to be, but I’ve made some adjustments and over the past couple weeks I’ve felt a lot better. I have nothing but confidence in myself. It’s not the start I wanted, but it’s a very long season. I can’t wait to start contributing to this team winning.”

Cameron Maybin can relate to struggling in the aftermath of being dealt as a headline prospect.

In a near mirror-image of Brinson’s situation a decade ago, Maybin was the No. 6 prospect in baseball, was traded to the Marlins in a blockbuster offseason deal and hit .202 in his first extended stint with the club.

He’s rebounded to have an 11-year career, which includes a World Series ring.

“It’s all about the maturation process and the growth process,” said Maybin, who is back for his second stint as a Marlins outfielder. “(Brinson) takes a lot of pride in his work and I think that’s the biggest thing. You’re going to have some ups and downs, but I think how it’s great how they’re letting him get a taste of adversity so you know how to handle it in the future. It’s a great opportunity for him to continue to learn about himself, to continue to go out there and play and grow at the big league level.”

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Whatever struggles Brinson has had at the plate, he’s been a boon to the Marlins defensively in center field.

With his speed, long strides, efficient routes and quick reactions, Brinson has established himself as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He leads all National League center fielders in putouts and range factor as measured by Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs rates him the fourth-best defensive center fielder in the game.

“He never takes a pitch off out there,” Marlins righthander Dan Straily said. “You see it. If you’re watching this team day in and day out, you notice that guy. The whole cliché that defense or speed never slumps, he doesn’t let his at-bats affect him in the field. He goes out there and makes plays. Seeing him work through everything, never letting the defense and the speed slump, has been a great thing.”

Brinson needs to start hitting to reach the ceiling that made him such a highly touted prospect. He knows that, and has been diligent in working with his coaches to make adjustments.

If he can make those, then it really will be a perfect homecoming.

Well, except for one thing.

“It would have been even cooler if I could have played at (Pro Player Stadium) as my first game with the Marlins,” Brinson said. “But brand new stadium, stadium is beautiful.

“It will feel a lot cooler when we wear retro jerseys coming up on our next homestand. That’ll be really fun. That was the uniforms I grew up watching, so it’s pretty exciting.”

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