We remember a catcher who converted into a pitcher and a basketball player who converted into a baseball player.
Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown.
Kevin Kraczkowski and Nicole Cahill have been capably leading this extensive series the past two months, but today and every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for them. Enjoy…
234. Chris Hatcher
Ordinarily, MLB teams feel pleased with themselves whenever a fifth-round draft pick develops into a big leaguer. But the 2006 class was unusually deep—nearly half of the fifth-rounders that year (14 of 30) reached The Show, including future All-Stars Chris Davis, Chris Archer and Jeff Samardzija. Hatcher’s career doesn’t seem so notable in that context.
Nonetheless, he should be considered a fascinating success story. The North Carolinian entered professional baseball as a catcher. Hatcher threw out 41% of attempted base-stealers in the minor leagues and provided approximately league-average offensive production in 2007 at Low-Greensboro and 2009 at Double-A Jacksonville. He made his MLB debut as a backstop at the tail end of the 2010 season.
Even back then, Hatcher had been dabbling in the art of pitching, but his conversion began in earnest the following year. It took just 47 1⁄3 excellent innings of Double-A relief work in 2011 for the right-hander to propel himself back to The Show in a new role.
By my count, Hatcher was recalled and optioned nine separate times by the Marlins prior to the 2014 season. You can understand why: 7.22 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 1.72 WHIP, -0.3 fWAR in 33.2 IP. On Feb. 11, 2014, they designated him for assignment. Nobody claimed him. That would prove to be an extremely lucky break.
Hatcher thrived during his age-29 campaign, making his way back to Miami in late May after a hot start at Triple-A New Orleans. He stuck on the active roster from that point forward. His fastball velocity averaged 95.1 miles per hour and he upped his changeup usage to 22.0%. His 2.56 FIP ranked fourth-best on the Marlins pitching staff in 2014, trailing only Steve Cishek, José Fernández and Carter Capps.
Within a year, Hatcher went from expendable to bonafide setup man. The Marlins included him in the December 2014 blockbuster that brought them Dee Strange-Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas.
Hatcher made 81 career pitching appearances for the Marlins, by far the highest total in franchise history for somebody who never earned a winning decision (via Stathead).
233. Mark Hendrickson
Prior to becoming the tallest left-handed player in Marlins history, Hendrickson put himself in elite company as one of the few individuals to have substantial careers in both MLB and the NBA. He came to South Florida in 2008, signing a one-year, $1.5 million free agent deal.
Hendrickson was initially a pleasant surprise, and so were the Marlins. They sat atop the NL East standings deep into May! The 33-year-old maintained a 3.72 earned run average through his first 10 starts, buoyed by his ability to suppress home runs (only allowed three during that span).
However, his next nine starts were a completely different story (9.63 ERA, .339 BAA, 13 HR in 43.0 IP).
Hendrickson lost his rotation spot at the All-Star break and never regained it. Manager Fredi González utilized him as a middle reliever down the stretch.
The next offseason, Hendrickson signed with the Orioles and would go on to spend the rest of his career with them.
232. Jeff Mathis
Seeing his .195/.252/.292 overall slash line in four Marlins seasons, you might assume Jeff Mathis was one of the worst players the franchise has ever had.
You’d be wrong. Frustrating as he may have been in the batter’s box, Mathis brought top-of-the-scale defense and intangibles, as explained in this delightful Foolish Baseball video:
FanGraphs approximates that Mathis contributed 1.3 Wins Above Replacement to the squad. For context, on a per-game basis, that’s almost identical to what Jorge Alfaro has done from 2019-2020. Compared to the six other players who arrived with him in that post-2012 mega trade with the Blue Jays, only Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarría were more productive on the field during the course of their Marlins tenures.
Since departing the Fish in free agency, Mathis has found homes with the Diamondbacks and Rangers. As of this writing, he’s back on the market and hoping to continue playing ball at age 38.
231. Kevin Olsen
Olsen didn’t have the privilege of throwing to Mathis, but getting Charles Johnson and Pudge Rodríguez behind the plate for nearly half of your career innings would seem to be a cushy situation.
Baseball America touted Olsen as a potential starting rotation candidate heading into the 2002 season. Unfortunately, the “pinpoint accuracy” he had with his fastball as a minor leaguer failed to translate to the highest level. The right-hander posted a mediocre 55.2% first-pitch strike rate in ‘02, walking 12.4% of all batters faced. He made it into the sixth inning only twice during his 10 total MLB starts.
Olsen was handling mop-up duty on June 27, 2003 while the Marlins were in the process of allowing a then-single-game franchise record 25 runs to the Red Sox. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Todd Walker hit a line drive that deflected off his head. Despite completing his comeback to The Show in mid-September, he didn’t earn a spot on their postseason roster.
Olsen concluded his playing career in 2007 with the Sacramento River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.